Chances are, if you are a woman over 40, you are probably familiar with the term “batwings” to describe the stubborn fat and sagging skin that starts appearing under your upper arms around this age.
Though it’s difficult to completely avoid or correct, you don’t have to toss your tank tops in the trash, either. There are several actions you can take to significantly improve their appearance.
Flabby arms are due to a combination of factors associated with aging and genetics, including an increase in overall body fat mass (a greater portion of which localizes to the arms in some women due to genetics), loss of muscle mass in the arms associated with aging and reduced activity (causing the skin to hang more loosely on the upper arm) and a loss of elasticity in the skin due to both aging and sun damage from UV radiation, according to San Francisco dermatologist Dr. Richard Glogau.
The most effective way to target flabby arms is through exercise. Losing body fat is essential if you are overweight as is building up your triceps muscles. Those muscles on the backs of the arms, which you probably don’t use that much in your day-to-day activity, can make a big difference in reducing flab there.
According to personal trainer Jennifer Cohen, you don’t need a gym membership or special exercise equipment to target this muscle. Doing these three exercises two or three times each week and reducing your body fat if it is too high, you should notice a difference in your upper arms in four to six weeks.
1. Triceps Step-Ups
Start in a plank position, holding your body as straight as possible, balancing on your toes and elbows. Make sure your abs are pulled into to your spine. From this position, go up on your hands one at a time and then quickly go back on to your elbows. Keep doing this for 30 seconds and rest for 30 to 90 seconds. Repeat three times (for a total of four), alternating the starting arm (right, left, right, left). If you are a beginner, you can do this exercise on your knees instead of your toes.
2. Triceps Pushups
Start in a plank position, this time balancing on your hands and toes. (Beginners can balance on hands and knees.) Hands should be on the ground, shoulder width apart. From this position, lower your body toward the floor while keeping your elbows brushed against your rib cage. Stop when your shoulders are in line with your elbows. (Beginners, stop when you feel you can no longer hold up your body weight.) Pause for a count of three and then press back into a plank pose. Aim for three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, resting 30 to 90 seconds in between sets.
3. Triceps Dips
This exercise can be done on the side of a bench, couch or very sturdy chair. Sit and wrap your hands around the front of the bench with your knuckles facing forward. Slide your butt off the bench with your arms extended, and slowly lower your body until your elbows are bent to a 90-degree angle. Note that the closer your feet are to the bench, the easier this exercise will be. Go up and down for 30 seconds three times, resting 30 to 90 seconds in between each set.
When it comes to often pricey skin-firming and -tightening creams, don’t waste your money, Glogau said, as science hasn’t figured out a way to rebuild the protein in the skin responsible for elasticity.
You are much better off wearing sunscreen to prevent or avoid skin damage and using a good basic moisturizer to smooth out the top layer of skin.
Some procedures, including radiofrequency, ultrasound, infrared and lasers, may have a very modest effect on skin tightening by injuring the fibrous bands that attach skin to muscle, causing them to tighten up. Cold- and heat-based fat reduction procedures can help with fat loss and may result in modest skin tightening, but they are expensive, and individual results vary.
Like with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To keep batwings at bay, the best thing you can do as you get older is to stay fit and lean and to wear sunscreen.
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Written by Dr. Melina Jampolis for CNN.
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