If you're carrying a few extra pounds, you're not alone. But this is one case where following the crowd isn't a good idea. Carrying extra weight — especially belly fat — can be risky.
Michael D. Jensen, M.D., an endocrinology specialist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., answers common questions about belly fat in men.
The trouble with belly fat is that it's not limited to the extra layer of padding located just below the skin (subcutaneous fat). It also includes visceral fat — which lies deep inside your abdomen, surrounding your internal organs.
Regardless of your overall weight, having a large amount of belly fat increases your risk of:
Your weight is largely determined by how you balance the calories you eat with the energy you burn. If you eat too much and exercise too little, you're likely to pack on excess pounds — including belly fat.
However, aging plays a role. As you age, you lose muscle — especially if you're not physically active. Loss of muscle mass decreases the rate at which your body uses calories, which can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. In addition, in some men fat cells in the arms and legs lose the ability to store fat, which causes any excess fat to go to the abdomen.
Your genes also can affect your chances of being overweight or obese, as well as play a role in where you store fat.
Drinking excess alcohol can cause you to gain belly fat — the "beer belly." However, beer alone isn't to blame. Drinking too much alcohol of any kind can increase belly fat, although some research suggests wine might be an exception.
If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. The less you drink, the fewer calories you'll consume and the less likely you'll be to gain belly fat.
So how do you know if you have too much belly fat? Simply measure your waist:
You can tone abdominal muscles with crunches or other targeted abdominal exercises, but just doing these exercises won't get rid of belly fat. However, visceral fat does respond to the same diet and exercise strategies that can help you shed excess pounds and lower your total body fat. To battle the bulge:
Remember, you can lose belly fat — it just takes effort and patience. In fact, shedding even a few extra pounds can help you feel better and lower your risk of health problems.