While changing hormone levels play a role, a major culprit in midlife weight gain is the loss of muscle mass that naturally comes with aging — a condition called sarcopenia. If you’re physically inactive, you can lose as much as three to five percent of your muscle mass each decade after age 30.
So unless we take action to preserve and build lean muscle mass, the lost muscle is replaced by fat, our bodies require fewer calories (muscle burns more calories than fat), and our metabolism slows down — causing us to gain weight.
So what’s a body to do to not only prevent weight gain but also take off the extra pounds that can pile on after 40? Here’s what I tell my patients:
- Do strength training to help maintain and build muscle mass. You can use free weights, machines, or your own body weight as resistance by doing exercises such as pushups, lunges, and squats. Aim for at least two strength-training sessions a week on nonconsecutive days.
- Eat a healthy diet. Consume “clean,” whole (not processed) foods, including lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Choose organic foods whenever possible. Watch your portion sizes. Shop the perimeter of your grocery store instead of the inner aisles where most processed foods are found.
- Keep a food diary. All too often, we eat mindlessly, packing in calories without even being aware of what — or how much — we’re putting in our mouth. Write down everything you eat for one week to get a handle on what you’re consuming — and help you say no to the extra calories that may be impeding weight loss.
- Stay active. In addition to regular strength training, move your body! Get off the couch, put down the phone or the remote, and walk, hike, ride a bike, jog, ski, snow shoe, play pickleball, move! Regular exercise has been shown to improve heart and brain health, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, control or prevent type 2 diabetes, reduce the risk of certain cancers, improve mood, promote better sleep, and boost energy levels (not to mention burn calories!).
- Ask your doctor about a thyroid evaluation. As we get older, women tend to have problems with our thyroid function, which affects our metabolism. If you’re doing everything right and still gaining weight, ask your doctor about thyroid testing.
Perhaps most importantly, remember that maintaining an appropriate weight is an essential part of preventing disease and living as long and healthy a life as possible. Yes, it’s nice (and good for the ego!) to fit into a smaller size, but there’s real beauty in the quality of life that being healthy affords us.
Guest Blogger: Lisa Aubin, CNM-ARNP, UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital
This blog post is part of our Simply Women initiative that caters to the unique health care needs of women and their families.