Regardless of the general increase in the number of overweight people in the western world it has always been common knowledge that we get a bit thicker in the middle as we age. Of course, the dramatic change of lifestyle in the modern age is contributing to the wider waistline overall, but on Midlife Joys we are interested primarily in the middle aged part of demographics. Menopause weight gain is talked about a lot but here we want to have a broader look and include men too.
What contributes to midlife weight gain?
Even though for women there is a lot of talk about menopause being the main culprit for gradual weight gain in midlife it’s actually a combination of factors: change in hormonal levels for women and reducing levels of testosterone for men, slowing metabolism in both men and women, muscle mass loss general, reduced elasticity of ligaments, and leading a generally slowing down lifestyle and moving less. The hormonal changes in particular make you feel tired and increase the sedentary lifestyle. Other contributing factors are stress and genetics.
Thyroid problems often cause weight issues, and they become apparent in the forties, affecting more women than men.
Other factors are poor nutritional choices, drinking alcohol (yes, that regular beer is definitely contributing) and genetics.
One very important and often overlooked factor is that our lives get more complicated in midlife. Compared to early youth, our middle-aged obligations are bigger and more complex: we wrestle with our careers, maintaining families and raising children, social and relationship obligations etc. Free time is scarce and we often put ourselves last, which frequently means no or little exercise and poor nutritional choices.
Having plenty of delicious and (calorie dense) food readily available doesn’t help either. It’s all too easy to reward yourself with food even when you are not hungry. This abundance affects all generations equally, however, when you factor in other contributors, midlifers are more vulnerable.
Lack of physical activity due to the more complex lifestyle is not a problem for everybody. There is a lot of people who remain psychically active in their middle age. However, very often the exercise done is not of the intensity needed to burn the extra food consumed. Therefore we often see a lot of active people in their forties and fifties who still carry unnecessary additional weight.
To sum up, the middle-aged people gain weight for several reasons:
- hormonal changes
- loss of muscle mass
- slower metabolism
- change of lifestyle – more obligations and pressure
Therefore it is not only menopause weight gain to be blamed for the overall plumper midlife population, it is a mixture of many different things. The question is how to handle this.
What can you do about midlife weight gain?
There is plenty of very generic advice everywhere on what do to do prevent or reverse weight gain in middle-aged population. We all know by heart that we must eat healthy and exercise more. But for decades this has not given the massive result that we would hope for. Millions of people start gym memberships and make dietary New Year resolutions, only to give up soon after.
However, if we look beyond the soundbites, there are discoveries that help us ease into midlife without loosening the belts. These little pieces of knowledge can help us understand where the issues come from and how to tackle them without the danger of futile diets and frustrating regimes.
Whether you are male of female, one thing is certain: your body most likely needs less energy than before. Some sources say that from the age of 40, you will need up to 200 calories less than in your thirties, the average being 100 a day. Now, looking at 100 calories a day it is not much and would not qualify as binge or excessive eating, but if you eat only that much more every day, in a year it can amount to 5 kg of extra weight. The key to overcoming this is to be mindful about our energy needs and try to keep ourselves active. Stay in tune with your body and its needs: feed it good food and give it plenty of movement.
Losing muscle mass is typical of this period of life and this slows our metabolism – muscle needs more maintenance energy than fat. Including weight training in your health regime combats the muscle loss and slows down accumulation of fat. It keeps the metabolism in check and ensures that the fuel you give your body is spent.
In case you are not used to exercise routines, it may be difficult to start in your midlife. Instead of enlisting to a local gym and going through the pain of doing the exercises you are not used to or comfortable with you can start by moving more. One of the ways to do it is to take up a hobby that requires you to move such as dancing, gardening or yoga.
Another way to move more daily is to incorporate walking or cycling into your daily routine. Apart from spending the energy these activities are good for the overall health. And they can be social – walking with a friend or family is a great way to bond and exercise at the same time.
Therefore there are many ways to combat the weight gain in middle age:
- pay attention to the change in caloric needs
- increase the intensity of exercise
- do resistance exercise for the muscle mass
- take up hobbies that include movement
- incorporate walking or cycling into your daily routine
What is your way to stay healthy and keep the weight in check?