When you were 20, it probably seemed like you could eat just about anything and still look amazing. Now, it seems the food you eat, or even just look at, packs on the pounds. It is true that as we age, keeping our weight down gets harder. The good news is, there is a reason. And the better news is, you can control and prevent it.
As we age, our muscle mass decreases. We actually lose roughly 8% of our muscle mass each decade after the age of 40. After 70, this seems to accelerate. You have heard “muscle burns more calories than fat,” which is the mantra for many trainers trying to get their cardio experts off the treadmill and into the weight room. It turns out strength training is important as we age. When you lose muscle, your metabolism drops, too. Your basal metabolic rate decreases 1 to 2% each decade after 20, and for women it decreases even more rapidly after 50. Not only that, but your daily energy expenditures decrease by about 150 calories per decade. It can been easy to blame weight gain on a drop in metabolism, but there is a way to give it a boost. Through strength training and staying active, you can build your muscles to help pick your metabolism back up.
Especially for women, weight gain as we age may seem inevitable. Menopause typically happens between ages 45 and 55, and our hormones can play into the battle to maintain or lose weight. Estrogen declines as a result of menopause and can lead to increased fat around the waistline. Lifestyle changes during this time can also lead to added weight. Stress, genetics, sleep, activity levels and food intake can all play a part. Your children may have just left home causing a bit of stress – or maybe the new freedom has created some relief, and you have more time for dinner and drinks with friends. Taking a look at your life and evaluating the possible causes with a doctor will be helpful as you transition into new life phases.
The rules for weight loss as we age are the same as they were when we were younger: You have to eat fewer calories than you burn. There are two major caveats to this rule, however. First, you may not be able to do the same activities you once loved in your 20s when you are 40 or 50. That does not mean you should give up. Find something new to love doing. After all, if you cannot enjoy getting a workout, you will find it hard to stick with. Second, your muscles and overall strength have probably declined; you will need to build these back in order to burn more calories. Try to include weight or strength training two times a week, and talk with your doctor about a program that will help you meet your goals before you begin.
One of the most natural challenges for women is to love ourselves for all our beauty and uniqueness. As we age, it is important to reflect back on our lives and our memories. Our bodies change. We may have smile lines and crow’s feet. Our daughters may remind us of how it felt to be young and beautiful, yet insecure. Aging is inevitable. As you reflect, be thankful you are not still that same 20- or 30-year old. Look at all you have accomplished thus far as well as the goals you still dream to accomplish. Work hard to accept your new self every day and continue to grow your desire to live long and live healthy.