Arm fat is excess fat that the body stores in the upper extremities.
The body contains two types of fat: visceral and subcutaneous. Visceral fat surrounds the organs, and subcutaneous fat sits just under the skin.
Though it makes up a smaller percentage of overall body fat, some visceral fat is important for the general protection of the organs. However, high visceral fat percentages are potentially linked to several health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and dementia. Meanwhile, arm fat is considered subcutaneous fat, which is less concerning than excess visceral fat for overall health.
“From a physiological perspective, arm fat isn’t necessarily harmful, but it can be a marker of overall body fat percentage and a risk factor for metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes,” says Brea Lofton, M.S., a registered dietitian nutritionist for the metabolic tracker Lumen. “Therefore, reducing arm fat through lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and regular exercise, can have positive health implications.”
Causes of Excess Arm Fat
Arm fat accumulates when a person generally consumes more calories than they burn. Excess calories are stored in the body as fat, according to Emily Skye, an Australia-based fitness trainer and the creator of wellness app Emily Skye FIT.
Other factors may affect how much fat tends to accumulate in the arms specifically. The primary determinant of where and how people store fat is their biological sex, followed by unique familial genetics, according to metabolic research scientist Benjamin Bikman, Ph.D., co-founder of HLTH Code and professor at Brigham Young University.
“Estrogens tend to promote greater fat storage at the buttocks and hips, as well as the arms, whereas androgens like testosterone promote greater fat storage within the abdominal space,” says Dr. Bikman.
In other words, women who have higher estrogen levels tend to store more fat in their arms than men who have higher androgen levels. Hormonal imbalances, which can be caused by factors ranging from menopause to thyroid disorders, can also contribute to the accumulation of arm fat, according to Lofton.
What’s more, the first places the body stores fat are also the last places where fat is shed during weight loss, according to Dr. Bikman.
However, there are ways to trim arm fat—even for people fighting against genetics.