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How to Stop Gaining Weight After 40

Has the number of too-tight clothing items in your closet mysteriously multiplied?

You’re buttoning your favorite jeans, a pair that you’ve had for years, and suddenly, it’s a challenge that you can’t complete. You blame the dryer. But then you grab a blouse, and the same overly-snug fit occurs. And frankly, you don’t know where to place the blame.

Gaining weight often occurs so gradually that you’re not quite sure how it happened. The trend in North America is the “pound a year creep,” which means gaining one pound each year – a relatively unnoticeable pace. Then you hit your 60s, and you’ve been gaining a pound a year since your 40s, and “suddenly” you’re 20 pounds heavier than your younger self. Investing in your health and mobility will help you stay motivated to avoid the weight gain. It can also give you the tools to reverse that unwanted “creep”.

Your 40s and beyond don’t have to be an unwinnable battle. You don’t have to sacrifice the classy wardrobe and energetic image you’ve cultivated for years and become a fashion victim of “the creep”. You can be vital, active, joyful, and mobile long into the foreseeable future. 

How We Age

Scientists believe 30 percent of how we age is genetically determined. So, the hereditary blame game will not get you off the hook when it comes to how well or poorly you age. As we age, our body experience changes linked to low estrogen levels that can cause weight gain and uneven weight distribution. And, it’s not as easy to bounce back once you’re over 40.

The key is to not let yourself get there in the first place. While it’s relatively easy to see the impact of lifestyle factors, i.e. diet and exercise, it’s important to know what’s going on inside your body that you can’t directly control. You know the basics – your genetic makeup is determined by your body’s 23 chromosomes. Telomeres, the part of your chromosome that protects them and assists in cell division, shorten as your cells divide. The process depends on telomerase (enzyme) activity.

Current research following up work by Nobel-Prize winners Elizabeth Blackburn, Jack Szostak, and Carol Greider suggests that the telomere shortening process is partially responsible for aging of the human body as a whole, along with many other negative side effects caused by shorter telomeres. Remembering that shorter telomeres means less well protected DNA, let’s dig in.

According to an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, the age-related diseases that can also be linked to shortened telomeres include: bladder cancer, osteoporosis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, dementia, obesity, and heart failure.

The same nutrition study goes deeper into the link between obesity and shorter telomeres in women’s health. But first, let’s define obesity. A well-known way to define weight categories is to determine BMI (body mass index), which is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. There is a fairly strong correlation between your BMI and body fatness. 

Scientists in the nutrition study compared both women’s waist circumferences and BMI to telomere length to see if there was a correlation between short telomeres and obesity. The study proved that women with a BMI greater than or equal to 30, the obese classification, had shorter telomeres than women with a BMI less than or equal to 20, considered as the healthy weight category. Greater waist circumference was associated with shorter telomeres.

The science indicates that healthy telomeres preserve healthy DNA because telomeres prevent chromosomal damage and delay cellular decline and death. Telomere length is a complex trait, and while we can’t control how genetics will affect our telomeres, we can be proactive when it comes to environmental and lifestyle factors. Subjects with the shortest telomeres had a higher BMI, higher total fat intake (specifically from monounsaturated fatty acids and PUFAs), and a lower fiber intake, specifically from cereal fiber and whole grains.

Lifestyle and Weight Gain

Lifestyle and environmental factors make up the other 70 percent of how our bodies handle aging. Your body is dynamic and durable. But, it’s no mystery that these following 6 factors could hinder a weight loss journey.

1. Potatoes

We’ve all been there…elbow deep into a bag of potato chips, or unwilling to order a side of salad at a restaurant because we crave French Fries. But this starchy food is not helping you lose weight or live a healthy life. Adding to the problem is the often high fat methods of preparation. Opt instead for 100% whole grains and other complex carbs.

Treat your stomach right by feeding it high fiber carbohydrates. It’s bad enough that declining estrogen levels may make you feel bloated and shifts weight to the midsection. You also want nutrition that will support healthy muscle development, because menopause often marks a period of declining muscle mass. Leave potatoes out. Replace them with 100% whole grains in your improved diet. 

2. Red Meat

Processed and regular red meats – think salami, steaks, pork, lamb – will not help you on a weight loss journey after 40. In fact, studies reviewed by The International Agency for Research on Cancer, strengthened the argument against consuming red meat through studies indicating that red meat is probably a carcinogen and processed meats are carcinogens.

While meat is a source of nutrients, you can find the same benefits in beans, lentils, dairy, soy, eggs, fish and nuts.

But don’t go swapping a steak with fried fish! Make sure you’re choosing healthy alternatives.

3. Sugar

Sugary drinks, desserts, processed carbs. Seemingly these temptations are everywhere. Take this fact for example from JAMA:

Sugar-sweetened soft drinks contribute 7.1% of total energy intake and represent the largest single food source of calories in the US diet. Coincidentally or not, the rise of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the United States parallels the increase in sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption.

4. Not Lifting Weights

Are you someone who goes to the gym, but sticks to walking on the treadmill because it’s what you’re comfortable with? Well, get uncomfortable because weightlifting is the way to go to prevent weight gain after 40. Adding muscle to your body gives you the ability to burn fat 24/7.

Dr. Michael Roizen suggests ways to maintain fat-burning muscle by weight lifting. Muscle needs energy to survive and one pound of muscle uses between 75 and 100 calories a day, while a pound of fat only needs 3 calories a day. Your fat cells are not doing anything but holding you back, whereas muscles can help you reach your weight loss goals faster.

5. Lacking Sleep

You need 6.5 – 8 hours of sleep each night. While it may not seem possible when you’re juggling all that life tosses your way, without adequate sleep your stress hormone cortisol can increase and consequently increase your appetite. When you’re tired and hungry, you will be less motivated to take the next step on your weight loss journey and pursuit of health.

6. Watching 3+ Hours of TV

This one is simple but not necessarily easy. No matter how good your Tuesday night comedies or that Netflix show is that you’re watching, avoid being sedentary. Watching more than 3 hours of TV a day will add 5 pounds in one year. And that’s on top of the one-pound creep…

Understanding how these 6 choices contribute to your potential “pound a year creep” is essential to identifying beneficial lifestyle changes. Once you figure out how to maintain a healthy lifestyle in your 40s and beyond, you’ll be better able to enjoy your healthy, energetic and svelte self.

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