‘When I was in my 20s, I could eat what I wanted. Now all I have to do is look at a piece of cake and I put on weight.’
How many times have you heard someone blame their expanding waistline on their age? A lot of people believe that weight gain is an inevitable part of getting older.
In this post, we are going to explain some of the common traps that people fall into as they get older and give you some practical advice on how to remain trim until your golden years.
When we are teenagers our bodies are in a flurry of change that demands energy. This settles down when we hit our late teens/the early 20s. Around the same time is when people move out of the family home and become responsible for their own lives, including nutrition.
It is also when they begin to drink regularly. Out in the real world, there is no obligation to take part in PE, so activity levels can drop unless people choose to play sports or go to the gym.
All of these factors can lead to some weight gain. Clearly, some are aged-related – you no longer have the metabolism of a growing teenager – but a lot is down to lifestyle– you are still eating like a growing teenager, drinking more and have reduced your activity levels.
However, a counterbalancing factor remains in your favour throughout your 20s which is that your muscles continue to grow larger and stronger. As we know, muscle mass requires more energy for maintenance, so your metabolism can be boosted from this.
This can offset some of the effects of a poor lifestyle and allow some people to “get away” with it for a while.
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Once you hit your 30s, age-related sarcopenia (muscle wastage) begins. It is slow at first; inactive people lose 3-5% of their muscle mass over the course of a decade.
The more muscle you build up during your 20s, the better prepared your body will be for this process. This is why strength training when you are still relatively young is such a good idea.
The good news about sarcopenia is that you can massively reduce its impact if you keep active. Basically, use it or lose it!
The people who invest in their muscles in their youth are typically the ones who continue to put the effort in as they get older. However, it is never too late to start.
Moreover, it is possible to reverse sarcopenia by strength training and replacing the lost muscle – no matter what your age.
Lifestyle changes 2
It is common for people to go through another set of lifestyle changes in their 40s and 50s. Around these ages are when activity levels drop off a cliff.
Often this is not intentional, rather work and family life is prioritised over-exercise. Clubbing, which at least involved dancing, is replaced by nights in with a takeaway and a bottle of wine.
Sarcopenia continues if it is not being otherwise addressed (i.e. if the muscles are not being used) and will become more noticeable in your physical shape.
For ladies, hormonal changes related to menopause can make weight loss more difficult and lead to a thickening around the waist known as ‘middle-aged spread’.
Changes in where the body stores fat makes a fat loss from the belly area genuinely harder. This does not happen overnight, and it still comes down to the basic formula of eating more than you are burning.
It is important to eat a nutritious diet and avoid processed foods and alcohol, as these worsen menopausal symptoms.
60’s and golden years
We hesitate to group the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and even 100s(!) together because these decades are all very different, but in terms of your health and physical fitness, the advice is the same.
The demands of work and family life begin to lessen and we have more time for ourselves. Some people like to take up active hobbies like swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, fishing, golf etc.
Doing so at this stage of your life is still beneficial for your looks (which you will still care about!) and now also becomes important for maintaining mobility, stability and high quality of life.
Ironically, people find that they lose weight as they get older. This is partly down to sarcopenia because muscle weighs more than fat.
But it also down to a reduction in appetite that can come on with old age (we are talking 80s and 90s here). Again, nutrition is really because if your meals are smaller then they need to be nutritionally dense.
If you are lucky enough to live until your 100s, however, we advocate for throwing nutrition out the window and having cake and sherry for breakfast.
At that point, you will have earned it!
Is age really to blame?
Looking over everything, the natural ageing process can contribute to weight gain. However, your lifestyle and nutrition play a much larger role.
People often focus too much on their age, a factor which they cannot control, and use it as an excuse for an expanding middle.
The only people who can legitimately use that excuse are menopausal ladies, and even this can be helped with a good diet and exercise.
Reference and Further Reading
- NCBI – The Hallmarks of Aging
- Aging in Motion – What is Sarcopenia?
- NCBI – Sarcopenia: A Contemporary Health Problem among Older Adult Populations
- WebMD – 15 Things That Slow Your Metabolism