Loose or sagging skin is a common result after pregnancy or major weight loss. Some ‘experts’ even claim that you can “pull the skin to the muscle” through exercise – so is this really possible? We asked Michele Olson, Ph.D., principal researcher at the Auburn University Montgomery Kinesiology Laboratory, to give us the scientific scoop on whether or not you really can tighten up your body’s largest organ with a workout regimen.
What Causes Loose Skin?
First off, let’s talk about the cause of loose or sagging skin, and what’s really happening to your body. “The more skin is stretched (say from a fast growth rate like a woman’s abdomen when she is pregnant or by having gained excess weight) the more difficult it is for the skin to retract and lay flat,” Olson says. “Think about a rubber band — when it’s stretched and stressed over time some of its strands fray preventing the rubber band from being able to fully shrink back to it’s original size,” she explains. And, while sudden or rapid weight gain can cause the skin to sag, even if you’ve never been overweight, skin naturally looses its elasticity tautness and over time, Olson says, so aging can also be a casual factor.
Can Exercise Tighten Loose Skin?
Forget what you’ve heard about any specific exercise method or program being able to “pull the muscle to the skin” – it’s just not possible. “It would be nice, but exercise cannot actually cause the skin to pull into the muscle and shrink or tighten up,” Olson says. Your skin does actually have muscles, but these muscles function to produce goose bumps when it’s cold and cannot do anything to cause permanent skin tightening, she explains.
Is There Anything You Can Do Tighten Loose Skin?
Don’t fret — there are a few things you can do to help reduce the appearance of sagging skin. For starters, don’t give up on exercise, and make sure you’ve got a balance program that includes both strength and cardio training, as both benefit your skin. “Weight lifting can develop the shape of your muscles and fill out into the skin from the underside, helping the skin appear tighter because a more developed muscle balloons out into the skin, much like what happens to a flat, saggy inner tube: when being filled up with air, the deflated, saggy inner tube smoothes out and firms up,” says Olson.
And cardio exercise helps increase the delivery of fresh oxygen to all of your organs – including your skin – helping to improve the health of your skin, which can, in turn, improve its appearance. Finally, nourish your skin from the inside out with a healthy diet. Olson says that vitamins C, E and the mineral zinc can help the skin from sagging prematurely, and you can get these nutrients from good food sources. She recommends loading up on Vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits and leafy greens and getting plenty of vitamin E from heart healthy foods like almonds, tomatoes and avocados. And zinc, which helps maintain the skin’s collagen (responsible for making the skin both firmer and more elastic), is readily provided by 3 to 4 oz. low-fat meat (turkey is the best), says Olson.