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Why Are My Upper Arms So Fat?

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July 30, 2015

By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist


No matter how many diets you follow and how often you go to the gym, you can’t shift the fat on your upper arms. Every woman has an area of stubborn fat that just won’t disappear. For some the fat collects round the middle, for others big thighs or fat knees are the problem. But for millions of women it’s those fat upper arms that cause most distress.

Common medical knowledge, until recently, blamed our body shape and pattern of fat deposits on genetics. It is also common knowledge that if you burn off more calories than you consume, you will lose the fat.

But now we realize this is not the whole story.

New research shows that upper arm fat reveals a considerable amount about our general health, and that our hormones have an intense effect on where the stubborn fat is stored.


The key to banishing those wobbly upper arms is to understand why your arms are fat – here’s why, and what to do to slim those arms. 

Your Upper Arm Fat is Significant













Fat upper arms have a deeper meaning. Doctors often make an estimate of the overall fat composition of the body by measuring the fat in the upper arm. A 2001 study from the University of Utah shows that a test measuring the “electrical resistivity of the upper arm and leg yields good estimates of whole body fat.”

And did you know that when you are pregnant, the gain or loss of fat in the upper arms predicts infant birth weight?

A 1994 study from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Osteopathic Medicine, Camden losing fat in the upper arms was associated with a greater birth weight.

However, in women who had a low body weight before getting pregnant, loss of fat in the arms was associated with lower birth weight.

Gaining fat in the arms was linked to lower birth weight and the “mothers who gained upper arm fat late in pregnancy or continued to accrue fat in the postpartum period had the largest gestational weight gains, bore infants who were smaller, and retained the most weight postpartum.”

However, other experts point out that you can have stubborn areas of fat on your upper arms even when the rest of your body is comparatively slim.

If you find you can’t shift the fat on your upper arms when you’re happy with the rest of your body, there could be another reason why.

Did I Inherit My Fat Upper Arms?

Considerable controversy still exists over whether the pattern and distribution of fat in the body is inherited and due to genetics. Studies such as a 2004 report from the University of Southern Denmark look at twins to demonstrate that adult body size, shape, and composition are strongly linked to genetics.

Therefore, if you have large upper arms it is likely your mother has the same fat problem, too.

But, again, that's not the whole story.  A 1988 study by the Physical Activity Sciences Laboratory at Laval University, Québec, Canada reminds us that “nongenetic influences are quite important in determining the amount and distribution of body fat in the population.”

How Your Hormones Make Your Upper Arms Fat

One nongenetic influence is your hormonal balance. And one hormone in particularly could be making your upper arms fat.

Low levels of the male sex hormone, testosterone, result in an accumulation of fat in the back of the arms, according to experts.

No one is exactly sure why but it is probably linked to the fact that you need testosterone to build lean muscle mass.

Women’s testosterone levels drop naturally with age but you can help redress the balance by eating foods rich in zinc – oysters, chicken, beans, nuts, and whole grains. 

That was the finding from a 1996 study from Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit shows zinc plays an important role in maintaining and modulating testosterone production in men and it also has been seen to work with women.

Also, you should eat plenty of good fats from foods like avocado, nuts, and seeds, and avoid saturated fat in red meat and high fat cheese and dairy.

Fat Upper Arms Caused by Toxins in the Body

Upper arm fat may be caused by an excess of toxins in your body, for example BPA, (bisphenol A) which is found in lots of everyday products like plastic utensils and food containers.

A 2014 study from Boston University Medical Center says that compounds like bisphenol A are “contributing to the global epidemic of obesity” and have been found to deregulate insulin and endocrine function, although the way they do it is still unknown.


Here's more evidence. A 2012 study from Rui-jin Hospital and Shanghai Jiao-Tong University School of Medicine shows that BPA exposure is related to increased amount of fat mass.

When you have stubborn areas of fat on the arms that cannot be removed through exercise, it may be time to look at the toxins in your diet and cut down your use of plastic containers and drinking bottles.

Could Your Fat Upper Arms Be Caused by Lipedema?

Lipedema is a rare chronic disorder of the tissues and generally affects the legs although the excess fatty tissue can also build up in the arms.

Lipedema is often triggered at puberty but can be brought on by an intensely stressful event when cortisol levels cause inflammation to increase.

A 2011 study from Kosin University College of Medicine, Korea states that lipedema is almost exclusively linked to women and is usually associated with a family history of the condition.

Lipedema is often painful, and characterized by large areas of fat that cannot be removed through diet or exercise. According to the study from study from Kosin University College of Medicine, Korea decongestive therapy, pneumatic compression, and dietary modifications are often used as treatments but their effectiveness has not been proven.

Exercises for Upper Arm Fat

Adding strength training to your exerciser routine is important if you want to help banish flabby arms, because strength training helps to develop muscle tone and tightens up the upper arms.

Okay, let's face facts --- without losing some of the excess fat this muscle tone will be less visible so strength training combined with cardiovascular activity is recommended.

Use body weight exercises, free weights, or strength training machines at the gym.

One key exercise to target upper arms is the triceps dip.

Yoga is also a good exercise for fat upper arms. Not only do you gain the benefits of body weight resistance training for tightening the muscles but yoga has been shown to have a “detoxifying” effect on the body by reducing cortisol production.  This stress hormone has been linked to a rise is fat storage in a 2013 study from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, India.

Hot yoga, or Bikram yoga, is particularly effective.




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