Whether you used to be one of those women who could get away with eating whatever she wanted (or couldn’t, but ate it anyway), or whether you’ve been eating conscientiously your entire life, almost all women begin to grapple with this annoying problem. In fact, some ladies find that their weights increase gradually with every year that goes by – even though they haven’t changed their diets at all!
Certainly, some things in life are just inevitable: as we hit our mid-thirties and beyond, a slew of physiological and hormonal changes begin to gradually alter the inner workings and composition of our bodies. This means that the tried, trusted, and true weight management strategies that once worked for us earlier in life will likely stop having their same effect. It’s challenging, it’s frustrating, it breeds a few unladylike thoughts at the sight of skinny twenty-somethings happily mowing down on potato chips without a care in the world. But it’s aging. It’s natural. And it’s inevitable.
However, what’s not inevitable – contrary to popular belief – is that you have to just fold to the Fates of Fat and allow the pounds to pack on as the years go by. Science has pinpointed many of the reasons why age-related weight gain tends to occur in the majority of women. In doing so, experts have found methods to successfully fend off age-related weight gain and to re-discover the svelt shape of your earlier years – even if you didn’t have a svelt shape in your earlier years.
Why A Woman’s Weight Increases with Age
Studies show that the amount of fat in a woman’s body goes up steadily after the age of 30, and can rise by as much as 30 percent. A 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that the biggest jump in the percentage of women who become overweight occurs between the ages of 40 – 59. There’s a few reasons why this spike in weight gain typically hits us:
1.) Hormonal Changes. At the end of our 30s, our levels of estrogen and progesterone, two major sex hormones in women, begin to decline. This alters the way fat is metabolized, and changes the places where fat tends to accumulate around the body. Whereas women typically tend to put on subcutaneous fat (fat just under the skin, that can often take on the look of dimply cellulite), age-related hormonal changes cause an increase in the amount of visceral fat (deeper layers of fat that accumulate in the mid-section, around the organs) that gets stored. This increases belly fat, creating a more apple-shaped physique, while also diminishing a woman’s ability to burn fat and increasing disease-related insulin sensitivity.
2.) Loss of Muscle Tissue. After the age of 40, women can lose about one percent of their lean muscle mass per year. Since muscle tissue is a prime metabolic activator and fat burner, losing more and more muscle leads to gaining more and more fat. Known as sarcopenia, loss of muscle mass due to aging can seriously slow down your metabolism and sap your energy, leading to weight gain, an increase in belly fat and insulin resistance. Bone tissue (also metabolic tissue in the body) also commonly diminishes with age, leading to thinner, weaker bones and, for some women, higher risk factors for osteoporosis. Moreover, your resting metabolic rate slows down as you get older simply because your organs and regular body operations don’t work as hard as they used to. The loss of muscle mass, bone tissue and the slow-down of organ activity results in less calories burned by your body overall, even when it’s at rest.
3.) Sedentary Lifestyle. “Women in midlife begin suffering from a new STD,” says Bonnie Roill, RDN, CPT, CWC, “Sitting-To-Death Disease.” Research shows that we become gradually less active as we get older. This could be because of more family obligations, more sedentary work patterns, less energy and motivation, more likelihood of chronic pain or injuries preventing physical activity, or other common causes. But the result is the same: fewer calories burned through daily activity, leading, ultimately, to even more weight gain.
Now here’s the good news: age-related weight gain is preventable. And not only are these approaches to age-related weight gain prevention highly effective, but they also aide with many other age-related issues, such as improved cognitive skills, more energy, better mood and outlook on life, healthy looking skin and hair, and prevention of osteoporosis and many life-threatening age-related diseases.
Stop Age-Related Women’s Weight Gain with:
1.) Strength Training. Whoever it was that said that “exercise is the cure for all ills” wasn’t far off, at least when it comes to age-related weight gain. Strength training directly combats the causes of age-related weight gain, preventing muscle loss, burning calories, shrinking visceral belly fat, re-balancing hormones, stabilizing blood glucose levels, improving balance, mobility and flexibility, increasing energy levels, and boosting mood and brain power. It is also one of the most effective remedies against bone loss and osteoporosis, a major risk factor for women. Strength training can be done with weights or other types of resistance, like resistance bands or even your own body weight (think yoga or pilates), but it’s essential to keep your muscles challenged by using weights that truly require a good effort on your part. The key is to start slow, ensuring that you perform each exercise correctly with proper form and technique, and then to continually progress yourself to higher challenge levels and new forms of exercise. No matter what age you start at, it’s vital to continually progress your level of intensity and resistance, and to continually explore new ways to challenge yourself physically. This approach is scientifically proven to stop the loss of muscle and bone tissue in individuals as they age, while keeping your body toned, healthy, and your metabolism running strong and actively burning fat into your senior years.
2.) Increasing Protein Intake. Protein is vital for muscle growth and maintenance. This is especially true for women as they age, as their bodies become less effective at using dietary protein to build fat-burning muscle tissue. While surveys show that older women tend to eat less protein than younger women, recent research has uncovered that the current dietary guidelines for protein intake for older adults may be far too low for good health and weight maintenance, especially for people over 50 years old. This was bolstered by a recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism which showed that healthy adults between the ages of 52 and 75 who ate more protein showed increased ability to build muscle tissue and to burn fat than participants who ate less protein. The lead researcher of the study recommends that the majority of older adults consume about 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day, or about 25 to 30 grams of lean protein per meal. Good protein sources include cold-water fish, beef, poultry, milk, cheese and high-quality whey protein powder.
3.) Reducing Calories while Increasing Nutrition. While our calorie needs shrink as we age, our need for vitamins, minerals and macro-nutrients increase in many areas. Therefore, every calories counts. It’s more important than ever that we ditch refined, processed foods empty of nutrients and that we highlight foods that deliver the most nutritional bang for your buck. Base your diet around natural, whole foods. Vegetables and fruits that are high in fiber, lean foods high in protein and free of dangerous chemicals and additives, and some healthy unrefined sources of fat with lots of water help to keep an aging body strong, healthy, trim and active. It’s also important to make sure you aren’t cutting too many calories from your daily diet, as that will slow down an aging metabolism even further. Don’t go below a 1300 calorie/day diet, and avoid eating a lot of food in one sitting, which is especially difficult on the digestion system (and encourages more fat storage) as you age.
While it’s never too late to attack age-related weight gain issues, prevention is key, which means adopting a lifestyle of healthy eating and daily exercise as young as possible. Knowing what to expect, and arming yourself with empowering lifestyle strategies, can ensure that life only becomes more enjoyable as you get older, and that you’ll always look forward to what lies ahead.