Women & Belly Fat: What you need to know

As you age and your metabolism slows down, the amount of fat in your body slowly increases. When women age, they experience an even greater fat percentage increase than men do. Then after menopause, your body fat distribution tends to shift less in your arms, legs and hips, and more in your abdomen.

You may think belly fat is limited to the stuff out front that you can grab with your hand, but it's the fat you can't see that's really a cause for concern. Visceral fat lies deeper inside the abdomen, surrounding the abdominal organs. Gaining this type of fat has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other health problems. Subcutaneous fat, located between the skin and the abdominal wall, is more visible but also less likely to be a health risk.

Women who are not overweight, are at risk for health problems related to belly fat. Your waist size matters more than your actual weight when talking about health-related problems. For instance, having a waist less than 34.6 inches is more important than falling in the normal weight range. Also, you want a waist to hip ratio less than 0.88. The proper way to calculate this ratio, is to divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

To measure your waist, run a tape measure around your midsection at about the level of your navel. Breathe normally, don't hold your tummy in, and don't pull the tape so tight that it presses your skin down.

You also need to maintain a healthy weight by exercising and eating recommended portions. When looking for the right foods and exercises, make sure you target the waist area as well.

Heart disease and cancer are the two main health risk associated with waist size. It has been studied that women with a waist size greater than 34.6 were three times more likely to die of heart disease compared to women with a smaller waist size.

Having large hips were not found to increase your health risk. Actually, by having larger hips and smaller waist, the risk of death from heart disease was lowered.

With the warm weather here, start your exercise program today! Visit the Center for Women & Infants for more information on women's health issues.