What causes middle aged spread and how you can fight it

-Nov 21, Hannah Hargrave , Health -

Age might make losing weight more difficult, but you don’t have to roll over and give in to middle-aged spread, because getting older doesn’t have to mean getting unhealthy.

Many men and women hit their 40s or 50s and suddenly notice there’s a little more to pinch, their middles are looking rounder with age and it’s much harder to shift those pesky pounds that may have piled on after a week of indulgence. But it’s actually much easier than you may have  thought to take control of middle-aged-spread and Fit4Mum founder Melissa Lorch tells Lumity why.

Why am I gaining weight?

Throughout life you may gain or lose weight for all manner of reasons, but at a certain point age gets most of the blame. Given that it’s been shown that men and women gain 1-2lbs around their mid section every year from 35 to 55-years-old, it’s understandable that you might point the finger at the number on your birthday card. However there’s more to it than that and once you understand it you can quite easily do something about it.

“The reason for age related weight gain is two fold,” explains Melissa. “One being that most people become more sedentary as they age due to lifestyle factors like driving more, sitting more at work and home and getting less exercise through sports. 

“Two being that we don’t adapt our calorie intake to match the decreased output.

“Not only is there less output from less activity but there is less energy spend overall per day as the body is functioning on a lower level due to decreased muscle mass too.” 

Because muscle naturally decreases as we age and from the age of 30 we start to lose approximately 3-5% of muscle mass every 10 years. 

Related: Build muscles naturally in six months without bulking up

“Muscle mass needs calories to maintain so as you lose this mass you require fewer calories to function daily,” says Melissa. “And many people don’t take this into consideration.

“If we continue to consume that same energy intake in our 30’s and 40’s as we did in our teens and 20’s we will inevitably gain weight over time. The bottom line to weight control is energy in vs energy out.  If we consume more than we need (or use) then we’ll store it and gradually these stores add up on the scale and tape measure.”

Hormones and weight gain

Hormones play a part in weight gain too. Men deal with the fact that as they age testosterone levels decrease. This male hormone is key to keeping men lean since it speeds up metabolism and helps build muscle. As it depletes the body stores fat, especially around the tummy area. 

Female hormones progesterone and oestrogen begin to decline around the age of 35 in the run up to the menopause. Higher levels of oestrogen often leads to more fat tissue being formed. While this is offset by the high levels of progesterone, as you age the latter hormone depletes faster than other which is also why many older women find they have more fat around their mid section. 

What can I do about age-related weight gain?

Eat a balanced diet

If you’re feeling down in the dumps about your weight gain you may automatically start thinking about diving into a diet. But Melissa insists it’s about editing what you eat rather than following a fad.

“There is no need to add more protein and cut carbs or eliminate food groups as they all have a place in the diet to provide us with a wide variety of nutrients as we age.  

“The best nutrition advice is to a stick to a healthy balanced diet that includes wholegrain carbohydrates, 5-7 portions of fruit and veg a day, a little low fat dairy, lean protein and healthy fats. How much we need of these food groups is based on our size and energy requirements and consistent activity levels.”

Strength training

With the natural loss of muscle mass that comes with age it’s important to give the muscles you have a helping hand. 

“Incorporate some strength training 2-3 times a week into your routine,” advices Melissa. “This would involve 8-10 exercises that target our major muscle groups for 12-15 reps performed at an effort of about 5-7 on a 10 point scale.  Overtime, the easiest way to progress this is to add a second and third set of the exercises.  All exercises should challenge the body but not overwhelm it.”

If you’re not really sure where to start with strength training look for help from a qualified fitness trainer who can set you up so you perform the exercises safely. 

And always remember check with your GP before embarking on any kind of strength training routine.

Related: 5 strength training exercises anyone over 60 can do at home

Reduce stress

High stress levels can mess with your mind and with your waistline, this is because the stress hormone cortisol has been shown to cause fat to accumulate around your tummy. 

While we appreciate reducing stress isn’t as simple as turning off a light switch there are some ways you can help manage your stress levels. Whether it’s by meditation, deep breathing or by delegating a little more, try to reduce the stress in your life and you may be surprised by the effect it has on your body. 

Add more movement

You don’t have to suddenly start training for a triathlon, but adding more movement into your life will make a major difference. 

“I would suggest using your legs as often as possible to improve muscle power,” says Melissa. “And seeing as they are responsible for overall mobility using body weight is effective. So things like getting up fast from a sitting position, going up stairs faster or taking two at a time are great ways to get more active.”

Portion size for men and women

Where many people go wrong when it comes to their food intake is that their portion sizes are way too big. But there is a very simple way to work out how much you should be eating, and all you need is your hand.

One portion of meat, eggs, beans, fish or dairy is the size and thickness of your palm.

One portion of fruit or vegetables equates to the size of your closed fist and your cupped hand determines the size of your carbohydrate portion. 

Related: What your 5-a-day should really weigh

A balanced diet for a man would be to have two portions of protein, two fists of vegetables and two cupped hands of carbohydrates with every meal.

For a women it would be the same but with one portion with each.

Remember if you’re very active you may need slightly more. “The bottom line is, if you eat more than your body needs even if it’s only a little – over time your body will get bigger and heavier – same happens in reverse,” adds Melissa.

“There is no need to be dramatic about controlling age-related weight gain. It’s only small changes needed and if well planned and executed it really isn’t a major deal.”

If you’ve been inspired by this article to get in shape then you might like these simple tips to squeezing more exercise into your day and follow the expert’s guide to getting fit after 50.

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