What are Love Handles?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

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.

The term love handles is used to refer to fat that forms over the lower abdominal and stomach area.
The term love handles is used to refer to fat that forms over the lower abdominal and stomach area.

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.

Abdominal and oblique muscles can be strengthened by crunches and sit-ups, but usually fat can only be reduced through diet and cardiovascular exercise.
Abdominal and oblique muscles can be strengthened by crunches and sit-ups, but usually fat can only be reduced through diet and cardiovascular exercise.

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.

The appearance of excess subcutaneous fat is usually associated with a poor diet and a lack of exercise.
The appearance of excess subcutaneous fat is usually associated with a poor diet and a lack of exercise.

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.

Carrying excessive fat deposits may double a person's risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease.
Carrying excessive fat deposits may double a person's risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease.

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.

Performing sit-ups on an incline can increase the amount of stress put on the abdominal muscles.
Performing sit-ups on an incline can increase the amount of stress put on the abdominal muscles.

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.

Certain types of undergarments can be worn to lend a sleek appearance to a flabby stomach.
Certain types of undergarments can be worn to lend a sleek appearance to a flabby stomach.
Side bends -- with or without weights -- can help tone the oblique muscles on the sides of the stomach and lower back.
Side bends -- with or without weights -- can help tone the oblique muscles on the sides of the stomach and lower back.
Love handles may be seen as a wake up call to adopt a stricter and healthier diet.
Love handles may be seen as a wake up call to adopt a stricter and healthier diet.
The term "love handles" are indicative of a person with a poor diet who doesn't exercise.
The term "love handles" are indicative of a person with a poor diet who doesn't exercise.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

lovelife

@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.

abundancer

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!

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