Nearly every day, a news report focuses on the rising rates of obesity in the U.S., which is currently at more than one-third of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Carrying excess weight not only makes it difficult to zip up your pants, but it also is associated with many serious health risks, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, the CDC says.
Worse yet, adults age 40 to 59 comprise nearly 40 percent of this statistic and adults 60 and over make up another 35 percent. Several factors make this so, says Dr. Brian Quebbemann, a bariatric surgeon and founder of the N.E.W. Program in Newport Beach, Calif.
“After 50, hormones play a very important role in the development of excess body fat,” notes Quebbemann. “These changes in hormones can have a significant and rapid effect on our weight. Hormone changes naturally occur as both men and women age. Unfortunately, for both sexes, these changes can result in us putting on extra pounds.”
Harder to Lose
In women, changes in estrogen levels during menopause can decrease resting metabolic rate (calories burned at rest), which results in increased fat, says Quebbemann. “This means that women often notice a slight increase in weight, but more importantly they notice increased difficulty losing weight. So any weight a woman puts on after menopause will be harder to lose than previously.”
Menopause in women tends to make the change in metabolism due to age more dramatic and rapid because of the simultaneous drop in both estrogen and testosterone. “This affects body fat content and metabolism,” Quebbemann says. In addition, women typically go through menopause over a period of a few years, while men experience a gradual change that continues for more than a decade.
Endless gimmicks and empty promises of rapid weight loss tactics abound, but nearly all result in only temporary weight loss.
A less dramatic, but still significant, shift in hormone balance occurs with men, with a decrease in production of testosterone, says Quebbemann.
“Less testosterone results in less muscle mass and a decrease in both resting metabolic rate and in the rate of calorie consumption during exercise,” he says. This means performing the same exercise in your earlier years burns fewer calories after 50.
Women over 50 who try to lose weight with their male counterparts may feel discouraged, since weight tends to come off easer for men. “Men have more lean muscle than women do, so even though they may gain weight after 50 the same as women, they tend to be able to lose it more quickly than women,” says Deborah Orlick Levy, a registered dietician and and health and nutrition consultant for Carrington Farms.
Effective Weight Loss Solutions
“The biggest mistake people over 50 make is believing it’s inevitable to gain weight as we age,” says Levy. “Implementing healthful strategies can result in better overall health and weight control.”
Endless gimmicks and empty promises of rapid weight loss tactics abound, however, but nearly all result in only temporary weight loss. They’re even less effective for those over 50. “For both sexes, you are going to have to fight harder to lose those extra pounds,” says Quebbemann.
You’ll need to up your exercise routine or start one if you’re not currently working out, says Levy. “Not only for overall health, but to shed those excess pounds by increasing metabolism and muscle mass,” she notes.
You also need to simply eat less, says Quebbemann, who adds most people experience less of an appetite as they age, but not always. “For those people that do not experience a decrease in appetite, it is even more important to maintain your activity level.”
It’s also helpful to make a conscious effort to eat fewer calories by filling up on lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and avoid foods lacking in nutrients, says Levy.
Four other tips:
- Quebbemann advises men to get annual check-ups to ensure their testosterone levels are not abnormally decreased.
- Men and women should also get tested for insulin resistance, which can occur as we age and results in elevated blood sugar (often called pre-diabetes) and more rapid accumulation of abdominal fat. Medications to balance blood sugar can result in sustained weight loss.
- Keep in mind it’s total calories that count; the timing of when you eat is less important.
- Avoid grazing on high-calorie snacks at night, a common pitfall. Instead, drink water, herbal tea or calorie-free vitamin water, which keeps you satisfied and also provides additional health benefits.
“The best solution, of course, is to simply pay more attention to your diet, and be more responsible in avoiding those extra calories throughout the day,” says Quebbemann.