Whether you are shedding a few extra pounds or transforming yourself into a lean machine, losing weight when you have said goodbye to your “youth” can be challenging.
Of course your 40s and 50s are not old and whatever your goals, you can achieve them. Nevertheless, you can expect your body to respond differently than it did in your 20s and 30s, which can come as a bit of a surprise.
So what’s going on? Why is harder to lose weight and what can you do to make reaching your goals a bit easier?
Why is losing weight harder as we age?
Anyone trying to lose weight is more likely actually trying to lose fat, or rather change the composition of their body. That is not an easy thing to do at any age, but the older you are the more challenging it’s likely to be.
Loss of muscle mass
There is a natural tendency to lose muscle mass as you age. In fact the rate if loss is between 3% and 8% per decade after age age of 30.
Of course that loss is an average and is dependent on your level of activity and other factors, but unless you do something about it, you are going to lose muscle.
Given that your muscles are like an engine that constantly require fuel in the form of calories (even as you sleep), the obvious consequence is that, with less muscle mass, less fuel is needed. Any unused fuel, or calories, will be stored as fat.
All that means, if you keep the same activity level and diet that you did in your 30s, your 40s and 50s will be periods where your body composition will naturally change, in the wrong direction – More fat less muscle.
There is no doubt that lifestyle changes as you get older. We tend to become less active and more sedentary – Maybe life is a little less physically demanding and perhaps the choices we make about what we do with free time change.
We all end up watching more sport than we play or driving to the store instead of walking. As our kids get older, physically challenging parenting is replaced by a mentally challenging parenting!
The result is that we simply burn fewer calories each day. Fewer calories burned very like means more calories to store in our fat cells.
As we age the number of medications we are required to take can creep up. Some of those medications can be the cause, directly or indirectly, of an increase in weight.
For example, beta-blockers, which are used to treat hypertension, are believed to slow metabolism and reduce the ones activity. Medication used to treat type 2 diabetes may also result in weight gain. Both of these conditions are more common as we age.
The irony here is that some of conditions that require theses medication are themselves caused or exacerbated by a reduction in activity and an increase in body fat, so the vicious cycle continues.
Changes to hormone production level can start in your mid-30s. The result can be a change in mental clarity, fatigue, low libido and an increased risk of chronic disease.
Hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen affect body composition and may may it easy to gain weight, but much harder to lose it.
How to get started when your over 40
Your body composition is the result of a number of factors including activity level, eating habits and lifestyle choices. It stands to reason that, in order to change your muscle/fat ratio, you need to change some behaviours.
However, losing body fat and keeping it off is not easy. You body will do whatever it can to hang on to that hard won fat reserve, so you will need to commit.
You have probably heard the phrase, you can’t out-run a bad diet. If you don’t get your nutrition right, no amount of exercise is going to get you to your weight loss target.
However, if you follow a balanced diet and set some rules around when you eat, success should not be beyond anyone’s reach.
There are lots of weight loss diets to choose from these days, low-fat high fibre, low-carb high fat, ketogenic, paleo. I can remember trying the cabbage soup diet many years ago – It is not to be recommended.
Many of the aforementioned diets have some merit. Most result in weight loss. The key is to find something that suits you and that you can stick to over the long term.
It’s important that you don’t think of a weight loss program as a temporary activity after which you will go back to your former diet. That probably won’t work! Think of it as a change in behaviour. The adoption of healthy habits naturally leads to sensible and sustainable weight control.
I lost easily 10% of my body weight, mostly in body fat, in about 9 months on a ketogenic diet. I felt fantastic. The problem was that it was ultimately unsustainable.
So choose a diet that suits you long-term and use your enthusiasm and motivation to help get you through the change that is needed to stop eating what you are eating and adopt your new lifestyle.
If you don’t use it, you will lose it. That is no less true for your energy, your muscles and your body’s vitality.
With an increase in activity comes and increase in energy and the same is true in reverse. If you are inactive it’s difficult to summon the energy needed to engage in some form of exercise,
Whether your activity of choice is walking, cycling, playing golf or strength training, a minimum of 30 minutes 5 days a week should be the absolute minimum you do.
People tend to think that fat loss is best achieved through a cardio based training activity such as jogging. Certainly some cardio based exercises can provide health benefits. However, for people in their 40s and 50s, the benefits of strength training are huge.
Remember the affect of ageing on muscle mass? Strength training can help maintain and grow muscle, which effectively increases your capacity to burn calories around the clock. It also has a protective effect on the cardiovascular system and will produce an aesthetically pleasing result.
This form of exercise if particularly good for men over 40 – It can even positively affect testosterone levels, which provides a range of other benefits!
On a cautionary note, we are all a little more injury prone as we age and recovery take a little longer. Any exercise program should be adopted gradually and it’s always wise to consult a health professional before you begin.
Changing your body’s composition by lowering body fat is not easy. The older we get the greater the tendency toward weight gain due to reduced activity levels, hormonal changes and natural muscle loss.
However, a change in what you eat and the activities you choose to fill your time are all that is needed to adapt your life to a routine that will, almost as a y product, lead to a leaner healthier you.
Keeping your dietary and exercise practices within reasonable limits makes them sustainable and easy to incorporate into a normal life. Its is consistent behaviour over the long term that will give you the results your are aiming for.
And remember, if health is your goal, weight loss comes for free.
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