A belly wider than 40 inches in a man, and 35 in a woman, signals potential health problems.
Excess fat around your midsection is dangerous to your health and gives you an unsightly pooch. The first step in losing stubborn lower belly fat is knowing why it's accumulating in the first place. While genetics and hormones contribute to your bulging belly, most of the reasons your lower belly is growing rest in your lifestyle, diet and activity levels.
Your belly epitomizes the saying, вЂњYou are what you eat.вЂќ Eat high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and your belly will grow. Fitness expert Jennifer Cohen writes on Forbes.com that controlling belly fat is 80 percent reliant on your diet. A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates - such as white bread and pasta - contributes to lower belly fat. Eating processed foods, particularly those with trans fats, can also make your belly bulge. A study published in a 2007 issue of вЂњObesityвЂќ found that monkeys whose diets included trans fats gained weight in their midsection while monkeys whose diets contained monounsaturated fats did not, despite consuming equal calories. Although trans fats have been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as of 2013, it will take several years to go into effect and foods with вЂњpartially-hydrogenatedвЂќ oils will contain this belly-fat building product.
Lack of Movement
Lack of activity contributes to belly fat gain. A sedentary job, technological conveniences and busy schedules mean you may spend more time sitting than standing, walking or exercising. You're burning few calories for energy during the day, which means most of the food you consume gets stored as visceral, or deep, and subcutaneous, or surface, fat - in your lower belly.
Stress, Drinking, Smoking and No Sleep
Stress causes you to produce a hormone called cortisol, which causes your body to accumulate fat in your lower belly. Stress doesn't only mean major life events like moving, deaths of loved ones or divorce - the every day pressures you face in your work, social and financial life contribute to a constant low-lying level of stress. If you deal with the stress by smoking and drinking, you'll further compound the gain of fat in your belly. Alcohol contributes extra calories to your diet and lowers your inhibition so that when you do face tempting, high-calorie foods - you can't resist. A study published in вЂњPLoS OneвЂќ in 2012 found an association between smoking and greater amounts of belly fat. Too little sleep is another way to pile on the pounds in your low abdomen. When you skimp on snoozing, the hormones that regulate your appetite go haywire and you tend to consume more. Your body also interprets sleep deprivation as a form of stress.
Aging and Genetics
Aging also makes you more vulnerable to weight gain in your lower belly. Women, in particular, experience a shift in hormones as they reach menopause which causes the body to shift fat storage from the hips and thighs to the belly. As men and women age, they naturally lose muscle mass which can lower your resting metabolism - making weight gain easier. MayoClinic.com notes that some men lose the ability to store fat in their limbs, causing any excess fat to pool in the abdomen. The natural decrease in a hormone called dehydroepiandrosterone, known as DHEA, may also be a culprit in the increased belly fat observed during aging. Certain body types are more vulnerable to abdominal weight gain, but this can largely be mitigated by an active lifestyle and a healthy, portion-controlled diet.