Your weight is basically determined by how you balance the calories you eat with the energy you burn. If you eat too much and exercise too little, you will put on extra pounds. This will include belly fat. Getting older also plays a role. Muscle mass gradually diminishes with age, and fat accounts for a greater percentage of your weight. Less muscle mass decreases the rate at which your body uses calories (it lowers your basal metabolic rate), which can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight or lose excess pounds. Many people notice an increase in belly fat as they get older – even if they aren’t gaining weight. This is due to a lowered basal metabolic rate and decreased activity levels. 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. Visceral fat is associated with several dangerous health consequences. That’s because an excessive amount of visceral fat produces hormones and other substances that can raise blood pressure, negatively alter good and bad cholesterol levels and impair the body’s ability to use insulin (insulin resistance). An excessive amount of any fat, including visceral fat, also boosts estrogen levels. All of this can increase the risk of serious health problems including: cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. Recent research also has associated belly fat with an increased risk of premature death – regardless of overall weight. Some studies have found that even when those were considered a normal weight based on standard body mass index (BMI) measurements, a large waistline increased the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other causes. How do you know if you have too much belly fat? Simply measure your waist. Here is how: 1) Place a tape measure around your bare stomach, just above your hipbone 2) Pull the tape measure until it fits snugly around you, but doesn’t push into your skin 3) Relax, exhale and measure your waist, resisting the urge to suck in your stomach. For men, a waist measurement of 40 inches (102 centimeters) or more is considered cause for concern. For women, a waist measurement of 35 inches (89 centimeters) is considered a concern. You can tone abdominal muscles with crunches or other targeted abdominal exercises, but these exercises won’t get rid of belly fat. Fortunately, visceral fat responds to the same diet and exercise strategies that can help you shed excess pounds and lower your total body fat. To fight the bulge, stick to the basics: 1) eat a low fat diet 2) watch your calories 3) increase exercise levels to burn excess calories.