It’s no big secret, as we get older, it becomes harder to maintain a lean physique and a lot easier to gain fat.
But, why does that happen?
Is it due to your genetics?
Has your metabolism come to a grinding halt?
Is it eating too many carbohydrates, gluten, or fruit like the keto community would have you believe?
In this article, we’ll answer this burning question and help dispel many of the myths surrounding why you gain weight as you get older.
Why You Gain Weight As You Get Older
Contrary to what you may have seen or heard, the reason you gain weight as you get older has very little to do with an actual slowing of your metabolic rate.
The reality is that the rate at which your metabolism slows is fairly minute.
Yes, there is a (very) small decline in the speed of your metabolism as you age, but they main reason you start to gain weight as you enter midlife is the result of being less physically active and consuming more calories than you should be.
The good news is that you have the power to combat this weight creep by doing the following things each and every day.
What Can You Do to Prevent Age-Related Weight Gain
As we said above, the main reason we gain weight as we age is a result of moving less, be it structured physical activity (i.e. exercise) or non-structured activity (walking the dog, checking the mail, cleaning the house, etc.).
Therefore, one of the most effective strategies for preventing age-related weight gain is to increase your movement during the day, in regards to both exercise and non-exercise activity.
For example, you could incorporate more training volume into your resistance training routines in the form of additional sets and reps within a given workout or more lifting days in general. You can also increase the number of cardio sessions you perform each week.
Options for increasing your non-exercise activity include parking at the back of the parking lot and walking further to get into the store, running with the dog instead of walking, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking while talking on the phone instead of sitting, and using social media less (social media use has a habit of “sucking” us in and keeping us idle for hours).
FYI, the National Institute of Aging (NIA) recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.
This can be split up throughout the week across different lengths and intensities (steady-state vs high-intensity interval) based on your preference.
Now, you may have heard that adding muscle ratchets up the number of calories your body burns each day, and while there is some truth to this, the number of additional calories you burn from adding a few pounds of muscle isn’t that great.
However, this should not discourage you from training hard and building as much muscle as you can. After all, the amount of muscle mass an individual has is closely associated with health and longevity (in other words, individuals with more muscle tend to live the longest).
The takeaway here is that you should continue to train hard to gain strength and fortify your body against potential injury as you age, but don’t assume that adding a few pounds of muscle will dramatically increase the number of calories your body burns each day.
Eat a Balanced Diet
In addition to moving less, as we age, we also tend to be less mindful of our nutritional habits.
Coupled with a dulling of our innate hunger-control mechanisms, this one-two punch contributes to age-related weight gain.
To help avoid overeating, focus on eating more whole food meals rich in protein and fiber. Protein and fiber help fill us up and keep us feeling fuller for longer.
Another helpful tip is to be more present or “mindful” during your meals. To be mindful means to consciously be in the moment of whatever you’re doing.
In the case of eating, it means taking time to savor, relish, and enjoy your meal. This also means turning off the TV, silencing the phones and other smart devices, and blocking out any other distractions.
Enjoy the food and the company you’re with and you’ll find that you tend to overeat less frequently.
Get Enough Sleep Every Night
Sleep is so vital to health, longevity, and performance, its importance can’t be stated heavily enough. And, while getting a full night’s sleep won’t magically throttle your metabolism into the stratosphere, not getting enough sleep will increase the likelihood that you will gain unwanted body fat.
The reason for this is multifactorial, including[1,2,3]:
- Alterations in hunger and satiety hormones (you feel more hungry after not sleeping enough)
- Increased cortisol levels
- Your body burns a higher percentage of glucose and protein compared to body fat when sleep-deprived
- You’re more fatigued, meaning you will likely move less the day after sleeping poorly
Gaining weight as we age is something many individuals struggle with, but it’s not due to a slowing of the metabolism. Rather, the reason we gain weight as we get older has to do with moving less and eating more.
Based on this, the most effective strategy for combating age-related weight gain is to be more active in your daily life as well as be more mindful of your food choices and portion sizes.
- Schmid, S. M., Hallschmid, M., Jauch-Chara, K., Born, J., & Schultes, B. (2008). A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men. Journal of Sleep Research, 17(3), 331–334. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00662.x
- Plamen D. Penev, Update on Energy Homeostasis and Insufficient Sleep, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 97, Issue 6, 1 June 2012, Pages 1792–1801, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2012-1067
- Markwald, R. R., Melanson, E. L., Smith, M. R., Higgins, J., Perreault, L., Eckel, R. H., & Wright, K. P. (2013). Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(14), 5695 LP – 5700. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1216951110
- Mousavi A, Vafa M, Neyestani T, Khamseh M, Hoseini F. The effects of green tea consumption on metabolic and anthropometric indices in patients with Type 2 diabetes. J Res Med Sci. 2013;18(12):1080–1086.
- Koot, P., & Deurenberg, P. (1995). Comparison of changes in energy expenditure and body temperatures after caffeine consumption. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 39(3), 135–142. https://doi.org/10.1159/000177854
- Dulloo, A. G., Geissler, C. A., Horton, T., Collins, A., & Miller, D. S. (1989). Normal caffeine consumption: influence on thermogenesis and daily energy expenditure in lean and postobese human volunteers. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 49(1), 44–50. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/49.1.44
- "Maintaining a Healthy Weight." National Institute on Aging, www.nia.nih.gov/health/maintaining-healthy-weight.