It’s no secret that most people pack on a few pounds as they age. Our metabolism slows, we lose muscle mass and bone density, we adopt more sedentary lifestyles. Starting in our early 40’s, our bodies undergo hormonal changes that slow the growth rate of our cells, making it harder to shed the extra pounds. While genetics play a part in how we gain as we age, many of the contributing factors are within our control. Here are a few tips to staying slim as the years go by.
Rule out Medical Concerns
There are some medical metabolic conditions that can contribute to weight gain, so it’s important to see your doctor and rule them out before you undergo any weight loss plan. Almost 20% of adults over 40 have some thyroid problems, most commonly hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), which is a huge contributor to weight gain—the thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the metabolism, so when it is underperforming, so is your metabolism. Symptoms include feeling cold, poor circulation in the hands or feet, fatigue, hair loss and weight gain. If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting a thyroid test.
Reversing Muscle Loss
One of the main reasons we gain weight later in life is that we are less active—whether it’s sitting at a desk all day or lounging by the pool or in front of the TV, exercise often takes a back seat to other activities. The more we sit, the more muscles begin to atrophy, which not only makes us weaker but slows down the metabolism (muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more muscle you maintain, the more your metabolism works). This loss of muscle also makes us more prone to injury, which then leads to even less activity.
One of the best ways to preserve muscle mass is to lift weights two to three days per week. Not only does it build muscle and boost your metabolism, but it can help improve balance, stability and flexibility, all things that tend to decline as we age. Adding a cardiovascular activity like walking, biking or water aerobics will also increase your metabolism and help burn extra calories.
- Take the stairs when you can, park farther from the door at the grocery store or even turn up the intensity a bit when you vacuum—little things can add up to lots of extra burned calories.
- You don’t need a gym membership or fancy equipment to exercise. Do jumping jacks during every commercial break. Put soup cans in a plastic grocery bag and do bicep curls. Do squats as you stand doing dishes at the sink.
Diet—a Four-Letter Word
Experts agree that “dieting” is much less effective than permanently changing your eating habits in terms of losing weight and keeping it off. It’s more about the mindset—“I’m on a diet” is much easier to ignore than “I now eat only healthy foods.” One of the keys to healthy eating is to have a fiber- and protein-rich breakfast, which not only helps you feel full longer (staving off those mid-morning binges) but it establishes more level blood sugar for the day, keeping you from crashing later in the day.
Also changing the frequency and size of meals can have a dramatic effect on weight loss. Most doctors recommend eating five to six smaller meals throughout the day, never going more than three to four hours without eating. This helps “trick” your body into feeling satisfied and full at all times while consuming fewer calories overall, as opposed to starving it (the usual diet model).
- Add a few fat-fighting foods to your diet. Spicy foods like curry and peppers help rev your metabolism.
- Add a few dashes of cinnamon to your coffee, oatmeal, cereal, chicken or pasta sauce, as it’s been shown to help stabilize blood sugar levels.
- Instead of adding fat and calories to give your food flavor, add spices and herbs to your cooking.
- Look for low-fat versions of your favorite recipes on sites like www.eatingwell.com, where you can find a great fettuccine alfredo recipe that uses condensed milk rather than cream and butter for the sauce, for example.
- Alcohol slows your metabolism (and packs tons of empty calories), so save the sipping for special occasions.
Increase Your ZZZs
Extra sleep is another way to boost weight loss, which can be more difficult as we age. Not only are we busier and more stressed, but sleep often eludes us thanks to physical ailments, night sweats, snoring or insomnia. When you’re sleep deprived, the hormones leptin and ghrelin (which control hunger and feeling full) are off balance, resulting in more cravings and fewer feelings of fullness. There are also new studies that suggest metabolism rates are most active while we sleep, so the more you snooze, the more you lose!
- Don’t watch TV in bed. Engaging in non-restful activities in bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Create an environment conducive to sleeping. Make sure you have dark curtains or shades to block the sun. Use a soothing noise machine to drown out outside disruptions. Spray lavender scented room spray to infuse the air with calming scents. All of these things can help your body prepare for rest.