While some visible changes due to aging are inevitable, like wrinkles or grey hair, one superficial factor – your weight, specifically weight gain in your forties and fifties – doesn’t necessarily depend on the aging process. But, this can’t possibly be true – you’ve heard for years that gaining weight is “just a part of aging.” Well, you’ve heard wrong – and here’s why.
When the balance is tipped and you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. It’s also important to note that genetics and/or autoimmune diseases may influence you and your weight and identifying such factors can help you understand why it may be harder for you to lose weight. However, other than some very specific factors, your weight is generally in your control. Two critical elements to keeping that important balance between calories taken in and calories burned, are your diet and your exercise routine. Exercise is always important, but it’s essential as you age, and the same can be said about diet.
So, if you find yourself struggling to lose weight as you hit your forties and beyond, it’s crucial to take your age, diet, and exercise into consideration when investigating whether or not it’s harder to lose weight as you age or if that’s just a myth.
Causes of Weight Gain
The proportion of older adults who are obese has doubled during the past 30 years. This statistic may help you find solace in solidarity by realizing that you are not alone in the struggle to lose weight. However, the rising number of obese older adults is a problem that needs to be addressed because of the further health complications obesity can cause.
Your weight is largely in your control. But why is it when you hit your forties and fifties that sometimes you think the opposite? You feel as though it’s harder to lose any weight gained and nearly impossible to keep it off when you do manage to shed it. If you toe the line of obesity, it can be hard to feel energetic and find the motivation to exercise. This is both a physical and mental barrier to making the changes needed for improved health. A positive and informed mindset will help overcome a pessimistic attitude and feelings that work against your wellbeing.
When you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. This means that when you make unhealthy diet choices and do not make time to exercise, you will gain weight. Now, once you gain weight in your 50s and 60s, it does not help that there is a general decrease in energy expenditure that contributes to the increase of body fat. Body fat takes up unnecessary space in your body and can constrict your organs. In addition, body fat does not require much energy to maintain. So when you have more body fat than muscle, you do your body a disservice. Each pound of fat is maintained with only three calories a day, whereas each pound of muscle uses between 75 and 100 calories a day because it is actively working and consuming energy.
As a woman in your 50s and 60s going through menopause, hormonal changes may also cause an accumulation of fat. Low estrogen has been associated with an accumulation of belly fat, which contributes to the apple-shape women are warned to avoid. When your belly fat is too dense, it can cause additional health issues.
You Are What You Eat?
You’ve all heard the saying “You are what you eat,” but how does your diet affect your body composition? Let’s start with protein. The way your body digests protein may accelerate middle-age body changes – in fact, “Although a number of underlying mechanisms contribute to age-related decreases in skeletal muscle, inadequate dietary protein intake may accelerate this process.” Your fat mass increases and lean muscle mass decreases as you age. If you’re not eating enough protein, your body may have a tough time managing your weight. Muscle is so important as you age because muscle uses more calories than fat and it makes you stronger so you have better balance and less risk of falling.
Next up – dairy. Since you were a kid, your parents probably stressed the importance of drinking your milk – “It’s good for you!” they would say. Drinking milk and consuming other dairy products helps maintain bone health. The older you get, the greater the risk of osteoporosis so it’s even more important that you monitor your dairy intake to protect your bones. But dairy is also important for weight management.
In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, studies show that you should not avoid dairy. In fact, they found “lower risk of becoming overweight or obese was observed in the highest quintile of high-fat dairy product intake.” If you can’t tolerate dairy, supplemental calcium or vitamin D will not put you at risk for becoming overweight.
Do sugary soft drinks call your name? Are they your guilty pleasure? Well, soft drinks – even diet ones – are viewed by many as a “major contributor to obesity and related health problems and have consequently been targeted as a means to help curtail the rising prevalence of obesity,” according to a study published in the National Library of Medicine.
Regular soft drinks often have caffeine and always have some form of sugar, so they contribute to an increased energy intake. They give you energy but few people use that “oomph” for good. The soft drink is rarely followed by a run to the gym to work out. Soft drinks may actually increase food cravings and make you crave salty foods that contrast with all the sugar you just consumed.
Soft drinks bulk up your midsection because their ingredients are wasted in your body. They may make you crave salty foods and they are associated with a “lower intake of milk, calcium, and other nutrients.” All of which puts you at higher risk for diseases down the road like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Associated Risks of Weight Gain
As you know, being overweight as you age is not good. Obesity is a leading cause of diabetes. In addition, obesity – especially for apple-shaped women who hold their weight in their midsection – can cause debilitating conditions such as arthritis due to added physical stresses or hypertension, and heart disease due to fat suffocating your bodies’ critical organs.
How to Keep Off Weight as You Age
As we say in Women’s Health Conversations, avoiding extra weight gain as you age is crucial. Losing weight as you age is harder. But gaining and losing weight is largely in your control, regardless of your age.
Other than adjusting your diet, the best way to keep off excess weight is through intense exercise. Preserving muscle and bone mass through regular physical activity is important, but don’t minimize the benefits of increasing flexibility, endurance and strength. Lose weight and gain health by incorporating exercise into a non-negotiable routine.
If you need a place to start, Fitness After 40, gives you step-by-step instructions on the best workouts for your body and age.