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Adjust Your Weight-Loss Strategy With Age
Learn how aging affects weight loss and the best ways to modify your fitness plans to adjust to changes in your metabolism.
As you get older, your body doesn’t respond the same way to weight-loss efforts. This aggravating phenomenon occurs primarily because your metabolism is slowing down and you need fewer calories each day. Here’s how to adjust to get back on track.
Weight Gain and Aging: What’s Going On?
“The 40s are very different from the 30s, and the 50s are very different from the 40s as far as your metabolism,” observes longtime dieter Frances Simon of New Orleans. Simon turns 55 this year and says that number is causing her to get serious about achieving her weight-loss goals. “It seems like it’s harder and harder. But, boy, I remember when I was in my 20s — admittedly I was a lot more active, but I had a lot more energy then, too. I would go out dining and drinking a lot when I was in my 20s, but now in my 50s there is no way I would do that. It’s easier for the weight to come on than to try taking it off.”
Simon’s experiences are not unique. With menopause you may find your waist expands a bit, your muscles lose their tone, and you get new fat deposits. Researchers have yet to uncover the reason for these physical changes, but suspect that rapidly shifting hormones affect your body’s makeup.
While the factors that lead to weight gain as we age are the same for men and women (with the exception of menopause), national health data shows that men over age 65 are slightly more likely than women to be overweight. In fact, 76 percent of men ages 65 to 74 are obese, compared to 71.5 percent of women in that age group.
Weight Gain and Aging: Your Changing Body
Here are some of the contributing factors to your unwanted weight gain:
You’re burning less energy. “As you get older, you don’t need as many calories. Part of that is a little bit slower metabolism, but part of it is you’re not rushing around as much. You can’t believe how many calories you don’t need,” says Donna L. Weihofen, RD, MS, health nutritionist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Weihofen says that learning to adjust your diet to your body’s changing needs is a gradual process. She gives her clients guidelines like switching to smaller portions and sharing at restaurants, especially if dining with a spouse who is having his own problems with weight gain.
You’re less active. Many people find they have less energy as they age, but you may also find that life is less demanding than it was in earlier years. Simon says that eating a Mediterranean-style diet, with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, keeps her feeling full and gives her more energy to exercise.
However, she notes that there is another significant barrier to exercising for older women. “For people my age who want to exercise or get started exercising, I think it’s discouraging to go to a gym where there are lots of younger people,” she says. Simon’s goal is to attend Jazzercise three times a week, a class she enjoys because the participants are her age and older. “Some of those 60-year-olds look pretty fine, too!”
Weight Gain and Aging: How to Fight Back
A study of weight gain prevention in 284 women showed that women who maintained a healthy weight over a three-year period were more likely to:
- Carefully monitor food intake
- Avoid a loss of control of their diet (binging, for example)
- Not feel hungry
The strategies for combating weight gain as you age are the same you’ve used before:
- Count your calories
- Eat a hunger-busting diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats
- Keep fat intake below 30 percent of your calories
- Be physically active, at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week (more if possible)
Aging doesn’t mean you are destined for weight gain — just step up your diet and exercise routine to stay on track!