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What are Love Handles?

Michael Pollick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Gravity and time are not necessarily our friends, especially when it comes to a healthy body image. When a layer of subcutaneous fat forms over the lower abdominal and stomach area, the result is a largely unappealing roll of skin known as love handles, muffin tops or even Dunlap's disease, a condition formed whenever abdominal fat "done laps" over a person's waistband.

Love handles have been described in popular literature since the 1960s, and has been a term traditionally applied to the flaps of excess abdominal skin and fat which tend to indicate a poor diet or lack of exercise. Various exercise and diet plans of the 1970s and 1980s vowed to get rid of those unwanted features, primarily through abdominal strengthening exercises which targeted the side or oblique muscle groups. Traditional sit-ups or crunches may address overall abdominal fat, but specific twisting or side-to-side exercises were believed to tighten the obliques and therefore reduce the appearance of love handles.

Further research into this phenomenon, however, showed that most targeted abdominal exercises had little actual effect on the extra fat and skin itself. The muscles below the fat deposits may become stronger, but the rolls of skin and subcutaneous fat do not necessarily shrink as a direct result of targeted exercise. An overall change in diet accompanied by an increase in general aerobic exercise and conditioning actually had more of an effect on the abdominal area.

Some sources suggest the phrase love handles refers to the soft and accommodating areas of a romantic partner's stomach area accessible during a hug or embrace. Others suggest that these fat deposits provide a partner with additional traction or support during lovemaking. Other terms such as spare tire, middle age spread or muffin top also describe the overflow of abdominal flesh as a person's body shape changes over time.

There are some people who embrace these changes and accept their love handles, potbellies or turkey wings as inevitable signs of aging. Others see the formation of these fat deposits as a wake-up call to begin a more aggressive exercise regimen or a stricter diet plan. In reality, the reduction of this condition is a slow process at best, depending more on a reduction in overall fat intake than any abdominal exercise program on the market.

Some studies seem to indicate that carrying a spare tire or excessive fat deposits may double a person's risk of premature death, either from cardiovascular diseases or complications from weight-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Men and women over the age of 40 should consult with their personal physicians to determine a safe diet and exercise plan in order to reduce abdominal fat and improve their chances of avoiding long-term medical complications triggered by excess body weight.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By lovelife — On Mar 09, 2011

@abundancer--You can try torso twists and side bends. I added these to my aerobic work out and they seem to help.

I have also changed to a gluten-free diet. It has a lot of health benefits, including dropping pounds overall.

By abundancer — On Mar 06, 2011

I am forty-nine and unfortunately in recent years I have developed the dreaded love handles. I would like to know a food and exercise routine that is proven to reduce love handles.

I am willing to change what I do. They might be called love handles, but I do not love them!

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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