We all know that gaining weight as we get older is a real thing, but do we really understand why it’s happening and what we can do about it? As a woman in my mid-60s, I’m not just writing some helpful material, I’m living this dream every single day.
So to ask the question, why do we gain weight as we get older, hits me right between the eyes, so to speak. Actually it hits me right in the belly and around the rear! More about that in a minute, but I think you know what I mean, girlfriend.
It’s no secret that gaining weight as you get older is common, but did you know that it might be due to something more than just a slowing metabolism? There are a variety of changes that occur in our body to precipitate weight gain, as well as lifestyle choices and life events.
Spoiler alert: there is no magic pill we can take, there are no exercise routines that will give us back our pre-midlife figure, and, sadly, our bodies will never look like they did in our youth. But you know what?
Once we accept the fact that we look different now and will continue to age, we can step off of that struggle bus and do our absolute best to love the body we have today and take very good care of it.
So, let’s explore some of the reasons why women gain weight as they age and what can be done do to keep it under control. And, consider some helpful tips for keeping our figures – and our health – in check.
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As women, why do we gain weight as we get older?
When we were younger, many of us counted calories and wondered if the lack of doing so was responsible for weight gain. While they do play a role in building extra pounds, calorie counting doesn’t tell the whole story.
There are many reasons why women gain weight as they age and it’s not just due to eating too much.
Perimenopause starts years before your last menstrual cycle and can continue for as long as one to four years. This is when your hormones are beginning to fluctuate, causing weight gain.
This weight gain is called age-related weight gain or “perimenopause weight,” and can add an average of 2 to 5 pounds during that time period.
Some women gain more weight during this time of their life, particularly if they are overweight already.
How does this happen?
As you age, the amount of estrogen in your body starts to fluctuate. The levels rise and fall before, during, and after menopause – these patterns affect how hungry you feel throughout the day.
When your estrogen levels are low, it can cause you to feel hungrier more often. As a result, you eat more than usual and gain weight. Bingo. A few more pounds are added on.
It’s not just the fluctuation of estrogen that causes excess pounds; other bodily changes can come with age as well.
Your metabolism naturally starts slowing down after the age of 30 and it typically drops by about 3 percent every 10 years. Once we reach our 60s a more dramatic slowing of the metabolism occurs, according to a recent study.
That rings true for me. I noticed some weight gain after menopause but was able to keep it in check with diet and exercise. Since I’ve hit the mid-60s, though, it has become much harder to maintain my weight.
Why? Your body tends to burn fewer calories, so you need fewer calories to maintain your current weight. You do not necessarily eat more or exercise less at this point, but the number of calories you can take in without gaining weight decreases along with your metabolism.
Our muscle gets replaced with fat as we get older
It not a pretty thought, but it’s true. We lose muscle as we age.
In our 20s, we can build muscle with as little as 10 minutes of strength training a day. However, as we age and the amount of muscle tissue in our body diminishes, it takes more work to see those results.
While we don’t need to (and probably don’t want to) become bodybuilders in our senior years, we DO want to keep our muscles strong. This can be accomplished without lifting weights at all, or with the use of light weights. More about that below.
Why do we want to maintain muscle as we get older?
Keeping our muscles strong can help us avoid injury as we get older. Muscle loss is one of the causes of osteoporosis, a serious condition that prevents bones from absorbing minerals and makes them weak and brittle. It’s important to maintain muscle mass in order to prevent osteoporosis.
Losing muscle also increases risk for sarcopenia. This is the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength, which can begin as early as age 40. It’s due to a combination of factors including reduced muscle protein synthesis, unbalanced muscle degradation, limited mobility, impaired neurogenic function of motor neurons, low or declining hormone levels, and more. Sarcopenia can lead to other serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
The good news is, you can rebuild muscle at any age by engaging in regular strength training exercises. Putting on muscle mass also helps to turn the tide on aging weight gain. Muscle needs more calories than other body tissue, so when we have a higher amount of muscle mass, we burn more calories all day long.
There’s something else to consider: muscle mass determines our resting metabolism. The greater amount of lean mass you have, the faster your body will burn as you go about doing nothing at all. Muscle tissue is considered an “active tissue” because it uses more energy than other tissues even when the body is at rest.
In short, the more muscle mass we have, the faster our metabolism is and this helps us burn calories from food even after we’ve finished eating. And because we need fewer calories as we age due to a slowing metabolism, every calorie counts!
So what can we do to prevent or slow down aging weight gain?
Keeping active is key to maintaining healthy weight during menopause and beyond. You can continue all the activities you did when you were younger, but since your metabolism slows down with age, you’ll have to work a little harder to keep the weight off.
That means paying attention to your physical activity by adding more steps throughout the day and being sure to do strength training at least twice a week.
There are several healthy changes we can make in our lives to help us control our weight or even lose weight and feel better about ourselves:
1. Stop calorie counting
If you’re always watching the numbers on the calories you consume, but not seeing many results, it’s time to ditch that strategy and try something new.
Counting calories may have done the trick in your younger years, but it may not be as helpful for women over 50 and over 60. Instead of focusing on calories, focus on eating whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy protein sources.
Now, if you are not going to count calories, it doesn’t give you a free pass to eat what you want. That mindset will quickly get your stretch pants feeling too tight!
The key is to make wise choices with a balanced diet, with plenty of protein, veggies, fruits, and good carbs like whole grains, and keep track of what you eat.
I have found that by keeping track of my macros – protein, fat, carbs – it has taught me a lot about which foods to eat regularly, which foods are my triggers, and how to combine them to keep my weight under control.
I use this app, Stupid Simple Macros, to track them. And yes, I really needed an app that was super simple and easy to use!
2. Strength Train as well as Aerobics
Quite often when I’m talking with a woman in midlife, I’ll hear that they are making an effort to walk regularly or in some way get some aerobic exercise. And that’s wonderful – we need that. But it’s only half of the healthy lifestyle equation.
Strength training is the rest of the equation! If you haven’t done it before, now is the perfect time to start. Strength training can help you maintain muscle mass, which will make it easier to keep the weight off in the long run.
Did you know that you can increase your body strength by doing exercises with just your own body weight? That is good news for women who aren’t able to lift weights of any kind.
There are strength training workouts that can be done while sitting in a chair, too. That opens up many possibilities for women who are not able to stand and exercise.
Check out these free and paid options for more informaton:
3. Track your physical activity
It’s important that you increase your total amount of daily movement when you’re trying lose weight. Regular exercise will also improve your overall health and help prevent diseases like heart disease and diabetes, but that doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym five days a week.
Setting aside time to go to the gym and workout is great, But it’s more important that you include physical activity as part of your daily life. No matter where you live or what the climate is like, if you really are committed, you can stay very active by just walking every day. See how I do it with my indoor walking workouts.
When it comes to tracking your exercise, workouts, water intake, and meals, you can do it as elaborately and sophisticated or as simple as you wish.
While these trackers don’t cover all the bases, an affordable fitness tracker will help you monitor your steps and workouts.
If you can spend a little more, trackers like the FitBit series are great; a Galaxy watch/tracker can just about do it all.
The bottom line is, you must stay active as a woman in midlife if you want to have any opportunity to maintain a healthy weight. Do this to the best of your ability.
More Wise Nutrition Choices
Fiber helps us feel fuller for longer, so we tend to eat less as a result. Not only does it help prevent heart disease and diabetes, but high-fiber foods take longer for the body to break down and absorb, which helps keep blood sugar levels steady and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. It also slows the rate at which food leaves the stomach, so you can still feel full when your next meal rolls around.
Raw fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber, so try to include them in every meal. Whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain pasta are also good sources of fiber.
Not only do we need to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, but there are certain supplements that can help.
Vitamin D is important for our overall health and well-being, so when it comes to helping us maintain muscle mass as we age, this vitamin is essential. It’s also been found to reduce the rate of aging in lab animals. In addition, the vitamin has been said to promote weight loss and prevent obesity by helping us control appetite and effectively metabolize fat.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with bone loss, depression, chronic inflammation, autoimmune conditions, heart disease , cancer , diabetes , Alzheimer’s Disease , poor kidney function and other diseases.
A 1997 study found that older women with a vitamin D deficiency were more likely to have two pounds of fat tissue compared to those without.
Conclusion: Why do we gain weight as we get older?
It might seem like there’s nothing we can do about gaining weight as we age, but that’s actually not true.
I find it really helpful to look at my overall health as a woman in my 60s like a part-time job. Yes, I have a job, and it is to make sure I take good care of me. It’s not being selfish, it’s being smart about how I approach my health, my longevity, and my ability to enjoy life with my family.
Keeping the midlife weight gain under control takes effort and commitment. While we can’t stop the natural aging process from adding a few pounds to our weight, we can make wise choices about what we eat and how active we remain.
So, the next time you go to grab a candy bar thinking it’s your best bet for curbing hunger pangs, rethink your choice. You may be better off reaching for some almonds or combining regular exercise with healthy eating habits . Because yes, my friend, you are ultimately in control of your choices.
What will you choose to do today?
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2 thoughts on “Why Do We Gain Weight as We Get Older, and What Can We Do About It?”
Hi Candi. This post is a great source of information, that I know I’ll be referring back to. I’m finding that even though I’ve exercised for quite a few years now, my body is not quite as fit as it was, now that I’m in my 60’s. I’m going to add walking back into my routine, and some morning push-ups. I hope this will help. I’ll be sharing this post to FB.
I know what you mean, Christina, we need to adapt our activities and exercise to the stage of life we are in. Thank you so much for sharing this post!