There is a range of unflattering names for that loose skin or fatty flap that hangs from the underside of the upper arms: bat wings, arm flaps, bingo wings (British slang for the arm fat that jiggles as overweight or elderly women wave their winning bingo tickets in the air) …the list goes on.
If you wave and your underarm skin continues to wave after you have stopped, you know what we are talking about. Unless you fly around at night catching insects, no one needs or wants bat wings. So what causes them and what can you do about them–realistically?
Bat wings are nothing more than fat and skin and mostly affect women. Women have more fat throughout their bodies than men because we need to have a certain amount of fat to conceive and nourish a child. So why do you have bat wings when your best female friend doesn’t?
Your mother or other female relatives had bat wings. Yes, unfortunately, bat wings, like other distributions of fat in your body, are genetic. Look at old pictures of your mother or other female relatives and there’s a good chance you’ll spot the bat wings.
You are plump or overweight: If you are overweight, and since bat wings are fat, you will be more likely to have them than your slim best friend. However, this is not always the case. Many otherwise slim women maintain that bat wings are a huge problem area for them as well.
You have a lack of muscle tone in that area: If you walk or run regularly, your calf muscles are likely to be well toned (calves are one of the easiest to tone areas since most people use their calf muscles every day).
However, the underside of the upper arm is a hard place to pin point for exercise and it is not generally an area that gets exercised in the course of everyday activities. Says William Kraemer, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut and an expert in resistance training, “Women tend to store fat around their hips, thighs, and upper arms but they also tend to undertrain their arms and concentrate on the other areas.”
Gravity has taken over. If you are a Blue Hare woman, your skin is starting to sag—here, there, eventually everywhere. If the area that is sagging is “meaty”, you will notice it. Skin doesn’t really sag noticeably at your elbow because there is hardly any fat there but there is fat in your upper arms. As we grow older the cells of the human body naturally start breaking down. They aren’t as strong, resistant to disease or as healthy as they were in our younger years. As the muscle tissue begins to breakdown, areas of the body start to sag. And it’s not just the area on the underside of our arms that starts to sag. Other areas, such as our face, kneecaps, leg calves and neck also start sagging, because gravity cause the skin to stretch.
How do I lose my bat wings?
There are a number of ways to combat bat wings.
Do arm exercises in conjunction with a change in your diet
There are many minor muscles in your arms but the major muscles of your upper arms (those that truly give it shape) are biceps, on the front of the upper arm; triceps, on the back of the upper arm; and the deltoid, or shoulder muscle, which gives your arm its range of motion.
Unfortunately, it’s more or less impossible to reduce one area of your body, for example, your triceps. What you can do is build your arm muscles. When your muscles develop, they take up excess skin, stretching and smoothing it. Think of a balloon; as you fill it with air, the balloon becomes bigger and tauter; as your muscles grow, they take up additional room in your empty, sagging skin.
There’s more good news. Dr. Kraemer says that the areas where your body likes to deposit fat are also the ones that give up the fat sooner, so that means you’ll see results faster. Shrinking fat requires a combination of burning more calories and eating fewer of them, especially in the form of sugar. “Consuming too much sugar inhibits your fat-burning enzymes, which slows down fat loss,” Kraemer says. “You can’t ignore what you’re eating if you’re trying to improve your body composition.” In addition, it is well known that strength training (building muscle) encourages fat loss by increasing your resting metabolism so you can burn more calories throughout the day.
Which exercises should you do? This video by Deborah Atkinson demonstrates six different exercises geared to improving the upper arm situation.
Ms. Atkinson, B.S., M.S., is a fitness expert and author who focuses on exercise and wellness for older people. Her video is realistic for people in our age group but she does suggest modifications so you can work up to them.
For example, one of the exercises is push ups. And not just any push up but triangle push ups (those with the hands closer together on the floor than a regular push up). They target the triceps even more than regular push ups but are harder to do.
Before you run screaming from the room, there are many ways to get acclimatized to push ups. For example, Jeanmarie Scordino, exercise physiologist and fitness trainer at Morton Plant Hospital’s Cheek-Powell Wellness Center in Tampa, says that she starts people with counter push ups. “Also known as incline push-ups, all you do is stand a few steps back from a counter, arms shoulder width apart and hands on the surface in front of you, so your body is on an incline. Holding your body in a straight line, bend the elbows, lower your chest to the counter and push back. As you get stronger, move farther away from the counter and place your hands farther apart. When that’s easy, try single-arm counter push-ups.” The beauty of counter push ups is that you can do them anytime you are in your kitchen: on the phone, waiting for water to boil, etc.
Give your bat wings the cold shoulder
As futuristic as it may sound, there is a minimally invasive treatment that purports to reduce fat while you lie around reading or listening to music. It is based on the idea that cold can target fat cells. One of these products is called CoolSculpting, a fat-freezing procedure that claims to be “the only FDA-cleared, non-surgical fat-reduction treatment that uses controlled cooling to eliminate stubborn fat that resists all efforts through diet and exercise.”
The technique originated years ago when scientists at Harvard University discovered that some children who ate frozen Popsicles developed dimples. They surmised that the Popsicles, held against the skin while the children were sucking them, were freezing and eliminating small pockets of fat cells. They hypothesized that cold can target fat cells and that was the idea behind a science they called Cryolipolysis®, upon which CoolSculpting is based.
If you are not getting results with diet and exercise or if sagging skin on your upper arm is excessive, you may want to consider surgery. The surgery to remove fat and droopy flesh from your upper arm is called an arm lift, or brachioplasty. It involves trimming away excess, hanging skin and removing stubborn deposits of fat. The skin is then pulled taut so it conforms to the new contours of your arm.
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) statistics from 2015 show demand for the surgical batwing solution rose 929.7% in the last two decades— nearly 26,000 upper arm lifts were performed in 2015, compared to 2,516 in 1997. There is no question that surgery works and it may be your best bet but of course, there are a number of attendant risks to surgery and any surgery gets riskier as you age.
If exercise doesn’t tone your arms to your satisfaction and medical procedures are not a solution for you, sleeves will be your best friend.
In recent years, you would almost never see a female news announcer wearing sleeves. And then there were those enviable Michelle Obama arms. But fortunately for us, that has changed. Sleeves are back in fashion in 2017, and there are plenty of attractive choices.
While sleeves may not be the most satisfactory answer to your bat wings (not many bathing suits feature sleeves), you can embrace the sleeve trend in conjunction with your exercise routine until your arms get taut and toned like the former First Lady’s.