Why Does It Get Harder to Lose Weight As We Age?

Have you noticed that when you were younger you don’t easily get fat even if you eat a lot? But now, as you grow older, and even being conscious of what you eat, you still gain weight. And worst, you don’t seem to lose weight that easily despite your weight loss efforts. Well, there is a scientific reason for it. 

As you grow older, your body doesn’t respond the same way to weight loss efforts. According to the review by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality published in 2013, as you age you gain about two pounds per year. It may not seem to be a huge problem but it can lead to a significant weight gain as the years pass by. If you are not conscious about it, then it could possibly lead to being overweight, or worst, obese. Weight gain starts once you reach your 20s and will be in its peak the moment you hit the 30 plus mark. It is important to note that not everyone gets overweight as the ability of the body to gain weight is influenced by a lot of factors – food choices, physical activity level, and genetic make-up. (1

If you are overweight and have been trying all your efforts to lose weight but nothing seems to work, then the following might be the culprit. 

Losing weight gets more challenging as you age

With aging comes wisdom and challenges too and one of which is not losing as much weight as you used to when you are younger. Women gain about seven pounds once they reach the age of 30. Men gain an additional 15 pounds once they hit the 30 age mark. As you transition from a young adult into middle age, it is tougher to drop pounds. Genetic make-up, stress, lifestyle, unhealthy eating habits, hormonal changes that come with age, and loss of lean muscle mass are some of the reasons why you are having difficulty losing weight. 

While it is difficult to lose weight you age, there are things you can do to somehow prevent yourself from gaining weight. You have to carefully watch what you eat. Choose to always eat healthily. Avoid calorie and sugar-dense foods. Limit your exposure to stress to avoid stress-eating. Find some time to do relaxing activities. Move as much as you can. Choosing to lead a healthy lifestyle is the secret to manage your weight and prevent age-related weight gain. (7)

Why It’s Harder to Lose Weight in Older Age?

Age-related muscle loss 

Why is it harder to lose weight as we get older? One of the reasons is that you are experiencing age-related muscle loss. Once you are in your 30, your lean muscles start to decline by at least 5%. Aside from aging, another reason for losing muscle mass is activity level. If you are suffering from health conditions that cause you to unable to perform physical activities, then chances are, you are going to lose more lean muscle mass than those who remain physically active. Lean muscles are important as they use more calories. Hence, speeding up the weight loss process. Truth be told, a lot of us eat a high-caloric food and not being able conscious with what we eat plus the loss of lean muscle mass are the reasons why you are having a difficult time losing weight. 

Hormonal changes 

Hormonal changes are normal, especially if you are getting old. Both men and women experience changes in the hormonal level. It is one of the reasons why middle-aged people are prone to gaining weight. Women undergo a stage called menopause, which usually takes place between 45 and 55 years old. These changes cause a drop in estrogen leading to an increase in fat deposits in the body particularly around the belly. It makes the weight gain noticeable and worst, increases the possibility of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and high cholesterol. 

On the other hand, men’s hormones, testosterone drops significantly by the time they reach the age of 40. Testosterone is the vital hormone in men as it does a lot of things – regulate the distribution of fat, sex drive, and muscle strength and mass, maintains insulin sensitivity, and fuel metabolism. A significant drop in testosterone levels can have a drastic effect on the calorie-burning effect of the body. The body tends to store more fat if you lack a sufficient amount of testosterone. An obese man has impaired testosterone production. (2

Metabolism 

As you grow older, your metabolism slows down. It still works but is not as active as you were younger. Metabolism is important as it converts calories into energy. A vital part of metabolism is lean muscle mass. More fat and less lean muscles reduce the calorie-burning ability of the body. As you age, you become less active, which results in slow metabolism. While age slows down your metabolism, it is not only the one to blame. Your body size, genetic makeup, and gender can also affect the body’s metabolism. 

Sedentary lifestyle 

The challenges in life brought about by old age caused significant change in the way of life. Your career is most likely in full swing, which could lead to unhealthy practices such as stress eating and lack of sleep. These can pose a few weight loss challenges. You are probably spending most of your time in the office sitting for a few hours a day. You might have a lot on your plate that you no longer have the time to exercise or even go for a walk. There are times when you miss breakfast just to report to work early. So, chances are, you tend to eat a lot for lunch. If you can’t make it to lunch, then you would resort to a vending machine or order fast foods, which are packed with calories. Aside from unhealthy eating habits and less physical exercise, you may also experience work-related stress, which increases the release of ghrelin, a hormone responsible for making you hungry. (3

Stress 

We all deal with a different kind of stress brought about by our day to day life. Older people tend to face a lot of stressful situations – raising children, work-related tasks, planning for retirement, and the likes. These stressors trigger the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. It is the same hormone responsible for flight or fight response, which is useful in life-threatening situations. However, there are non-life threatening situations that still induce stress. If the release of cortisol is not used properly, it could be stored as fat cell deposits. Hence, the one responsible for the fat deposit, especially in the exposed areas of the body like around the belly and thigh. 

You’re not getting enough sleep 

Sleep is important as it gives ample time for the body to recuperate. However, as you age, you tend to sleep less long. Average adults have at least five hours of sleep and the change in lifestyle and responsibilities are to blame – demanding jobs, kids to cook a meal and drive to school, and other social activities. With so many things to do and only a few hours of sleep, chances are you would resort to less healthy foods such as fast foods, sugary foods like cookies and donuts, and other comfort foods. Your decision-making is also affected by a lack of sleep. You can no longer prioritize the nutrition of your food. What matters the most is you don’t run on an empty tank. These unhealthy practices intertwined and lack of sleep is the one to blame. Sleep won’t help you lose weight but not getting quality sleep every night will make you susceptible to weight gain. (4

Fat increase 

Jumping from one diet to another could change the composition of your body. People who are into a crash diet tend to lose muscles rather than losing fat. Once you stop dieting, you get to regain all the weight that you lost. The weight gain will most likely be in the form of fat. So, chances are, you get to weigh the same but with a high percentage of fat. As you know, it is hard to lose fat than muscles. So, if you are trying to lose weight once again, it would be extremely difficult to shed off excess pounds this time, especially now that you are already aging. 

What can you do to manage weight at midlife and beyond?

Watch your diet 

One of the primary culprits for gaining weight is unhealthy food choices. In fact, some of the foods you think healthy are packed with so many calories. As you grow older, you need to cut down your intake of high calorie and sugar-dense foods. You should also avoid highly processed foods. Focus on vegetables, fruits, and healthy meat.  Fill up your body with high-fiber rich foods such as beans, nuts, and greens. These are high volume foods, will keep you full for a long period of time, and prevent unnecessary food craving.

Cut your food portion  

As you grow older, you need to adjust your diet according to the calorie needs of your body. Once you hit the 30 marks, you should cut at least 100 to 200 calories from your diet. Such a small change can make a huge difference.

Hydration is important 

The sensation of thirst and hunger are very much alike and it’s easy to confuse between them. One effective way of managing your weight, especially if you get older is keeping the body hydrated. By hydration means drinking plenty of water. Stay away from calorie and sugar-dense beverages such as soda and fruit juices. Water alone helps ramps up the body’s metabolism and facilitates the breakdown of fat.

De-stress 

If you are in a stressful situation, you tend to eat a lot. Since you are already in your mid-age, your body won’t be able to burn down the calories you eat efficiently. To avoid stress eating, you should employ de-stressing methods. Do relaxing activities for at least once a week. (6)

Move more and give your muscle groups a workout 

Although lean muscle mass loss isn’t avoidable as you age which could affect your ability to lose weight, you can do something about it. You can fight back muscle mass loss by adding strength training to your exercise routine. Aside from strength training, you should also do a cardio workout. With the help of your muscles, you get to burn more calories. You are doing something that would benefit not only your weight but your health as a whole. A simple brisk walking, biking, jogging, or swimming can help a lot in preventing lean muscle mass loss.

Have a goodnight’s sleep 

Sleep is important not only for losing weight but for overall well-being. If you lack sleep, you will not have the energy to get going through the day. You will burn fewer calories. Have at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep and you will feel energized throughout the day.

Increase your intake of protein 

by boosting up your diet with high-quality proteins, you get to hasten the weight loss process and stop or reverse age-related muscle loss. Not to mention, older adults have higher protein needs than younger adults. (5)  

Conclusion 

Growing old comes with so many challenges and one of which is losing weight. The body’s metabolism slows down, lean muscle mass is lost, and fat deposits become obvious, especially in the prominent areas of the body. While it is hard to lose weight as we get older, there are things we can do to avoid unnecessary weight gain. At the end of the day, it all boils down to living a healthy life. 

References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3849225/

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18615231

(3) https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/suppl_2/S403

(4) https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0211952

(5) http://ojin.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/Vol142009/No1Jan09/Obesity-in-Older-Adults.aspx

(6) https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/JAHA.119.013200

(7) https://www.consumerreports.org/dieting-weight-loss/how-to-lose-weight-safely/

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