You never had a problem losing or maintaining your weight before, but now the scale won’t move. It’s frustrating but it’s not your only problem. Science has some answers. As we age, our bodies don’t respond as well to weight loss efforts.
According to a study, we gain weight as we age, approximately 1 to 2 pounds (lb/year). review by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Although it may not seem like much at first, this can lead to significant weight gain over time. In some cases, this can lead to obesity.
“Obesity incidence starts increasing in one’s twenties and peaks at 40 to 59, and then decreases slightly after age 60,” says Craig Primack, MDArizona’s Scottsdale Weight Loss Center has a physician who specializes in obesity.
Dr. Primack explains that not everyone will become overweight as he ages. This is because body weight is heavily influenced by genes, exercise levels, and food choices. “We sometimes say genetics loads the gun and lifestyle pulls the trigger,” he says. Everybody will find it more difficult to lose or maintain weight with each year.
Weight Gain and Age: What’s Going On?
As we age, our muscles, hormones and metabolism are constantly changing. (In other words, it’s complicated.) There are five main reasons your jeans feel tighter these day.
1. You’re Experiencing Age-Related Muscle Loss
After age 30, the amount of lean muscle begins to decrease by 3 to 8 percent per ten years. This process is called sarcopenia and it’s described in a review published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). You may also lose muscle if you’re less active because of age-related health conditions, such as arthritis, or if you’ve been sidelined with an injury or surgery for several days, Primack says. “All of these [factors] individually do not cause a significant decline, but cumulatively they surely do,” he says.
Why is it important to lose muscle? According to the, lean muscle burns a lot more calories than fat even when it is resting. Mayo Clinic. Unless you’re regularly strength training with weights to maintain and build muscle, your body will need fewer calories each day. This makes weight gain possible if you consume the same amount of calories each day as when you were younger.
“Most people will not adjust calories,” explains Marcio Griebeler, MDCleveland Clinic, Ohio. “They keep eating the same amount, but because they have less muscle mass to burn those calories and less activity, they end up gaining weight over time.”
2. You’re Undergoing Normal Hormonal Changes
According to data from the National Center for Health StatisticsBoth men and ladies experience hormone changes, which is why middle age is a prime time to gain weight.
For women, menopause — which tends to happen between ages 45 and 55, according to the National Institute on Aging — causes a significant drop in estrogen that encourages extra pounds to settle around the belly, explains Dr. Griebeler. This shift in fat stores may make weight gain more visible and increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type two diabetes.
Griebeler also points out that fluctuations in estrogen levels in perimenopause (the years leading up to menopause) can cause mood swings that make it harder to follow a healthy diet. According to Griebeler, the average weight gain during menopause is around five pounds. UC San Diego Health.
As they age, testosterone levels drop significantly in men. It starts to decrease gradually around age 40, at a rate of approximately 1 to 2 percent per annum, according to notes Harvard Health. Testosterone is responsible among other things for controlling fat distribution and muscle strength. In other words, a lower testosterone level can reduce the body’s ability to burn calories.
The pituitary gland’s production of growth hormone (GH) also slows from middle age onward, per Harvard Health. One of GH’s many functions is to build and maintain muscle mass. So with less GH, it’s harder for your body to make and maintain muscle, which, in turn, also impacts how many calories you burn.
“It’s a snowball effect,” Griebeler says. “You start accumulating more fat, have less lean body mass; you burn fewer calories, and that just keeps adding up over time.”
3. Your Metabolism is Slower Than Ever
According to the, a decrease of muscle mass could slow down your metabolism. This complex process converts food calories into energy. Mayo Clinic. Calorie burning is affected by having more fat and less muscles. For a variety of reasons, many people become less active as they age. This further reduces the amount of calories you burn. Age isn’t the only thing that determines your metabolic rate, however — your body size and sex play a role. So do certain health conditions, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s syndrome, which become more prevalent with age as well.
4. You’re Busier With Work
By the time you’ve reached your forties and fifties, your career is likely in full swing — which is great, but brings its own weight loss challenges. You may be moving less. You may commute an hour or so to and from work, sit at a desk for eight or more hours a day, and have so much on your plate that there’s no time to go for a walk or exercise during the workday.
You may also find yourself too busy to break for lunch, increasing the odds that you’ll scarf down something from the vending machine or order in calorie-dense takeout food, notes Rachel Lustgarten, RD, a nutritionist at Weill Cornell Medicine. Working-related stress can also affect your ability to maintain a healthy weight. According to research, the stress hormone cortisol can increase the hormone ghrelin levels, which causes you eat more. systematic review and meta-analysis in the March 2021 Nutrients.
5. You’re Experiencing Major Lifestyle Changes
Some of the reasons for weight gain in middle age have nothing to do with what’s happening inside your body and everything to do with the way life changes as people enter their thirties and forties. The most significant change comes when you have a family. You suddenly find that the time you used to spend at the gym after work can now be spent with your toddler at your home. Later, your child’s after-school time is filled with playdates, homework, and other activities that require your attention. “You do not seem to have time anymore for yourself,” Primack says. This can lead to a loss of motivation and a decrease in your diet.
7 Science-backed Strategies to Beat the Bulge in Midlife & Beyond
Do not be afraid! You can regain control of your weight with specific, effective strategies.
1. Focus on Healthy Foods
Griebeler recommends increasing your vegetable and fruit intake, as well as decreasing the amount of processed foods, added sugar, or fast food. You’ll also want to prioritize whole foods — vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, and fruit — packed with fiber, says Lustgarten. “It will make it easier to control calories. These are high-volume foods — they take up more room in the stomach — and they generally contribute fewer calories to your daily intake,” she explains.
2. Reduce the size of your portions
It is not easy to learn to adjust your diet to lower calorie needs. Griebeler suggests starting by cutting 100 to 200 calories daily and then adjusting as necessary. A calorie counting app can help you monitor your food intake. You’d be surprised to see what a big difference such a small change can make.
3. Keep Well Hydrated
It’s easy to confuse the sensation of thirst for hunger. Drink water, not calorie-rich drinks like sodas, fancy coffee drinks, or fruit juices to boost your metabolism and increase the breakdown of fat. review of several animal studies published in Frontiers in Nutrition in June 2016.
4. Find Solutions to Tame Stress
Griebeler states that stress can lead to stress eating for many people. Do what you need to do to relax, whether it’s with a twice-weekly yoga class or short five-minute meditations throughout the day.
5. Give your major muscle groups a workout
Have you ever experienced the loss of muscle mass? Strength training can help you fight back against muscle mass loss. “You want to preserve muscle mass as much as possible,” Griebeler says. “With more muscle, you burn calories more efficiently and you’ll be more active because you have better balance and more stamina.” A good place to start is with the National Institute on Aging’s easy at-home strengthening Go4Life exercise program.
6. Move your body more
Try to incorporate a half hour a day of aerobic exercise — which is anything that gets your heart rate up, such as jogging, walking, biking, or swimming, advises Lustgarten. Can’t put together 30 minutes all at once? You can break it up by taking three 10-minute walks throughout the day. “Short bursts of activity have a cumulative effect and count toward a daily exercise goal,” she says.
7. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
If you don’t wake up feeling energized, you’ll be less active during the day and will burn fewer calories as a result. Primack suggests getting between seven and nine hours sleep per night.