Research: Midriff Bulge Is Associated With Old-Age Physical Frailty

association between midriff bulge and later physical decline

Even though the so-called ‘middle-age spread’ or midriff bulge can be seen as just a phase of getting old, a recent study has shown that it can indicate the presence of some serious physical decline later in one’s life. The condition can be quite common among adults who are at least 45 years old.

But what the recent study indicates is that things are not simple as they seem. Read on to know more about the latest findings regarding how your midriff bulge can be a red flag for physical decline in the later stages of your life.

Midriff Bulge And Physical Decline

A recent study that was published in British Medical Journal on January 23, 2023, found an invariable association between midriff bulge and later physical decline.  The study was conducted on the cohort group of around 2340 women and 2169 men who are aged 45 years or more residing in the Tromso municipality of Norway.

Based on the analysis that was made using BMI parameters and waistline measures and its association with pre-frailty or frailty condition among older adults, it was found that people who had a greater BMI and higher waistline measures experienced more symptoms of pre-frailty or frailty.  One of the crucial findings of this study was that participants who had a larger waistline were reported to be 57% frailer than participants with a normal waistline. 

Midriff Bulge And Physical Frailty

Frailty is a major syndrome that is associated with the aging process. Some of the geriatric syndromes related to frailty include muscle degeneration, loss of bone density, muscle weakness, etc. Based on a study published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences, in 2001 a phenotype for frailty was developed by Linta.P. Fried. As per this phenotype, five criteria were determined to analyze the condition of frailty which are: Self-reported exhaustion, slow walking speed, unintentional weight loss, weakness, and low physical activity. The study combined frailty and pre-frailty as a single outcome and analyzed the findings based on this. 

Many studies have already been prevalent on the connection between abdominal fat distribution and chronic health conditions. A study was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion in 1993 which found a connection between midriff bulge and a heightened risk of cardiovascular issues.

Many factors can lead to midriff bulges in older adults.  Some of them are poor diet, alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyle, stress, sleep issues, genetics, and smoking. Issues like midriff bulges not only cause cardiovascular conditions but also can heighten the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, asthma, heart attacks, breast cancer, etc. 

The experts of the study suggest that when your body experiences increased adiposity, it can lead to an increase in the production of pro-inflammatory adipokines and this can result in inflammation which is connected with frailty in older adults. One of the reasons behind reduced muscle strength in older adults is the accumulation of fat mass and a rise in lipid infiltration in muscle fibers due to obesity. According to the co-author of the study made in the British Medical Journal, Shreeshti Uchai, there might be several reasons behind the current findings of physical decline. When you are obese, it can cause inflammation in your cells which can lead to a loss of muscle strength and function. 

The current study highlights the importance of routine checkups of the BMI and waist circumference in adulthood to decrease the probability of frailty in older age. As per the study, people with a higher body mass index and a larger waist circumference were found to have an increased risk of being frail in older age.


While people who had a normal body mass index and much lesser waist circumference reported less frailty and other health conditions, particularly in old age. According to them, there is a growing population of older people where a ‘fat and frail’ subgroup is developing. Obesity is becoming a life-threatening condition even among the older age group and only by proper measures can one resolve the issues at a root level. 

Experts suggest that incorporating a daily exercise routine can improve these conditions. They recommend that muscle-strengthening exercises be practiced at least two or more days each week. By building lean muscles and burning extra body fat, certain symptoms of frailty can be eliminated. Consistent exercise patterns can help older adults in improving their balance and maintain their posture. These experts suggest that combining both aerobic and strength exercises into one’s daily routine can be beneficial in reducing old age-related issues. 

Even though the study has taken into account the role of body mass index and waistline circumference leading to physical decline, other factors such as changes in lifestyle, diet, physical-social and psycho environments, habits, etc haven’t been taken into consideration. So the experts themselves suggest that the study should be taken with caution and one should be wise enough to be aware of its limitations. 

Also read: Study Reveals That Weight Loss Surgery Can Extend Your Life!

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