Beer belly, muffin top, middle-age spread, spare tire, jelly belly, paunch ­­­­–– whatever you want to call it, extra fat around the middle is often a frustrating part of growing older. You may not even weigh more than you did in your younger days, but still, you find that your pants are getting tighter. Women after menopause especially notice a shift to more belly fat due to decreased estrogen production.

As we age, losing muscle and gaining a few pounds isn’t uncommon. Nevertheless, where your body stores the extra fat can make a difference in your overall health.

We store two kinds of fat: subcutaneous and visceral.

Subcutaneous fat is stored just beneath the skin and is all over the body. It’s the jiggly fat that you can pinch at your waist or under your arms. This type of fat is normally harmless. It helps insulate our bodies and provides cushion for our bones, and it is how the body stores energy. Of course, you can have too much subcutaneous fat, which eventually will lead to health problems.

Visceral fat is stored deep in our abdomens around our vital organs. This fat is biologically active and interferes with our balance of hormones. It also produces substances that increase inflammation in the body. People with more visceral fat are at greater risk for insulin resistance.

Too much visceral belly fat has been shown to:

• Increase the risk of heart disease. The inflammation triggered by visceral fat contributes to atherosclerosis and heart disease.

• Increase insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes.

• Result in poorer cognitive performance and later an increased risk of dementia.

• Increase the risk of stroke.

• Increase cancer risk, especially breast and colon cancers.

• Lead to gallbladder problems.

• Increase sleep apnea.

• Increase the risk for high blood pressure

How do you know if you have too much visceral fat? Without sucking in, measure your waist at your belly button. More than 40 inches for men or more than 35 inches for women indicates an unhealthy amount of visceral fat. Smaller people should check their hip measurement, as well. Your belly measurement should not be greater than your hip measurement.

So what can you do to lose belly fat? (Hint: Abdominal crunches and magical belly fat reducing supplements aren’t going to cut it.)

• Vigorous exercise helps reduce circulating insulin, which contributes to fat storage. It will take 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week to lose weight. Losing weight overall will help lessen belly fat.

• Watch your diet. Calories matter, but so does what you eat. Too much sugar and processed foods lead to weight gain and a slower metabolism. Concentrate on more fiber-containing foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Make water your beverage of choice.

• Get good sleep. Poor sleep or getting less than five hours a night is associated with packing on the pounds.

• Add some weight training to your exercise. Building muscle increases your calorie burn, making weight loss a little easier.

• Watch the alcohol. It’s not called a beer belly for no reason. Men especially gain weight in the abdomen when they get too many calories from alcohol.

• De-stress as much as possible. When under stress, we release cortisol, a hormone that contributes to belly fat.

Finally, focus more on how your clothes fit rather than the number on the scale. As we age, a little extra fat can be a good thing. There is no need to try to return to your high school weight, but losing excess fat around the middle is beneficial to your health.

Apple Cider Chicken

Serves 4

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

½ tsp salt, divided

½ tsp ground pepper, divided

2 Tbsp olive oil, divided

2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and thickly sliced

¼ cup finely chopped shallot

1 tsp dried thyme

½ cup apple cider

½ cup unsalted chicken broth

1 Tbsp reduced-fat sour cream

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Season chicken with ¼ tsp each salt and pepper. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, and cook, flipping once, until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp oil, apples, shallot and thyme to the pan. Cook, stirring, until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add cider and broth; bring to a simmer. Cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.

Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan; adjust heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until meat registers 165 degrees using a meat thermometer, 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a platter. Stir sour cream, parsley and the remaining salt and pepper into the sauce. Spoon over the chicken to serve.

Nutrition Information: 251 calories, 10 g fat, 16 g carbs, 24 g protein, 2 g fiber, 367 mg sodium.

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Missouri.

This article originally appeared on Lake Sun Leader: Bust the belly fat