What causes middle-age spread in men?
While many think it's the beer, wine, poor diet or a lack of exercise, in fact hormones and in particular oestrogen are the biggest contributors to middle-age spread in men.
As men get older, many find their weight around their waist expands more easily than it did when they were younger, and for most, it's much harder to lose fat and in particular belly fat. But men can do something about it, as we explain here, by understanding the route causes to help reduce and prevent middle-age spread.
What causes weight gain around the middle?
The biggest change in men that causes middle-age spread is in their hormones.
Men's testosterone levels peak at the age of 20, and after the age of 30-40 as men approach middle age, their levels of testosterone start to drop at around 2% a year. This drop causes the ratio of oestrogen and progesterone to increase in relation to testosterone, giving mens' body a higher level of instruction from oestrogen and progesterone.
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The ratio of hormones plays an essential role in our body and all three hormones - progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone - exist normally in both men and women. You can also learn more in 'Why is testosterone important for women'.
These hormones need to be in the correct ratio for the body to exert either feminine or masculine expression in our bodies. When testosterone declines in men, they can experience 'oestrogen dominance', meaning that some of the functions which rely on testosterone, such as maintaining muscle mass, begin to decline.
To add to the problem, xenoestrogens - which are synthetic oestrogen and come from the environment - are also absorbed by the body and increase the ratio of oestrogen in mens bodies further. Xenoestrogens come from plastics, some cookware, toiletries, and are found in tap water and pesticides, and become stored in the fat cells of the body.
One of the important roles of testosterone in the male and female body is building and maintaining muscle mass, so declining levels of testosterone compound the issue of belly fat, affecting men and women.
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Muscle mass speeds up our metabolism which helps to prevent the laying down of fat stores. Testosterone also helps with the way men deal with stress and balance their blood sugars, so when testosterone levels are lowered, fat gain is easier, and stress and blood sugar imbalances further contribute towards middle fat storage.
How to prevent and reduce middle age spread
There are some simple steps to minimise and even completely lose middle-age spread - it most definitely isn't something men have to be resigned to living with.
Cut out sugar and refined carbohydrates
Sugars from food, drinks and alcohol and refined carbohydrates, such as white rice, white bread and white pasta, increase blood sugar levels which not only encourage fat storage, but also increase the production of insulin, which then causes a dip in blood sugar levels and an increase in production of the stress hormone, cortisol.
All of these are a disaster to the body and contribute towards fat around the middle and a decrease in testosterone levels.
Being active encourages the muscle mass laid down in earlier years in the body to remain as muscle mass. The higher your muscle mass, the higher your metabolic rate and the less fat you will store, and doing the right activity is important.
Fat, especially fat around the middle, actually produces an oestrogen-like hormone called 'estrone' that worsens the problem, so the trick is to avoid laying down extra fat in the first place.
It is generally advisable for men to do mostly strength and resistance exercises such as weight lifting, and less cardio exercise than women. This is due to a higher ratio of muscle mass in men that needs to be maintained compared to women, and because too much cardio exercise can trigger the stress hormone cortisol, which creates other complications including weight gain, anxiety, insomnia, and abdominal obesity. Learn more in 'What is cortisol?'.
Focus on strength and resistance exercises to build muscle mass which in turn will increase your metabolic rate.
Stress is a major contributor to increased blood sugar levels and middle weight gain. Stress hormones themselves are made out of the same raw ingredients as testosterone. If you are stressed, your body will prioritise the creation of stress hormones at the expense of testosterone.
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Asses your lifestyle and see if there are any changes that you can make to lower your anxiety and stress levels and allow more time to de-stress. As much as they may feel enjoyable, watching TV and playing video games are not a de-stressor because screen-time triggers the body's stress response.
Also ensure you are getting enough good quality sleep, because a lack of sleep also increases stress hormones and contributes to a decrease in testosterone and hence an increase in middle fat storage. If you're looking for better sleep, try our advanced formula Vegan Nights | Relax & Sleep.
Eat protein with every meal and snack
Protein when mixed with complex carbohydrates keeps blood sugar levels stable and provides the amino acids to build and maintain muscle mass. Steady blood sugar levels help to reduce the production of stress hormones and encourages middle fat loss. The loss in middle fat also decreases the level of oestrogen-like hormones released and improves the effectiveness of testosterone.
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