Reader and recent mom Shopgirl asked for an “expert opinion” on weight loss and aging. How much does age affect one’s ability to lose and keep off the pounds?
Apparently, the internet also wants to know, as “weight loss for women over 50” is one of the more frequently-searched terms (curiously, men over 50 are looking up the subject as well, at about a third the rate). By the way, Shopgirl, we know you’re not even close to closing in on your 50s! But heck, even if you are, there’s much hope to be had, as seen by this one lady’s rather hilariously-subtitled story:
You do bring up a pretty important question: how does growing older affect our ability to lose or maintain our weight? And, maybe we should add, how soon does it make a difference?
While this author can offer no “expert” opinion on this subject, she is aware that there really are a lot of things that make weight loss trickier as the years go by. They are all individually small in their effect, but taken together, they can really add up. And they can start affecting you long before you find your first gray hair.
The Burdens of Aging
(1) As we age, each year that we’re past our primes (physical primes, that is, the ages when we’re fully physically grown but before we begin to deteriorate–which for both sexes is usually sometime in our 20s), we naturally lose muscle mass. Any time we lose ANY body tissue (including fat, interestingly), we decrease our RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate, the number of calories we burn just by breathing and taking up space). The jury is still out on how many calories this is. Some sources claim massive loss to RMR for each pound of muscle, but then there’s also at least one convincing rebuttal to the “muscle burns tons of calories!” argument.
(2) Most of us “settle down” lifestyle-wise as we age. For many, this starts the moment we move out (the “Freshman Five”—now called the Freshman Fifteen, and—God Forbid—perhaps it’s only a matter of time before we see the Freshman Fifty) and are allowed to start making our own food choices.
Still, the teenager and the 20-something are often a great deal more active than those in their 30s, 40s, and up. Think of the 20-year-old’s propensity to take road trips vs. the 50-year-old’s preference for Business Class.
Also, it should go without saying: once you’ve stopped actually growing, as in physically maturing (late teens or early 20s for most of us), your body needs a great many fewer calories.
(3) Marriage and parenthood make an even bigger difference for many people. Instead of running around in a state of, basically, play, parents and spouses often prefer to stay home and enjoy each other’s company (or to collapse on the couch after the children have drained all energy reserves). Also, once you’ve found your special someone, with the need to attract a mate no longer an issue, the psychological motivation to get or stay “hot” can wane.
(4) And then, for many, there’s the career. Once it gets rolling, days are rarely shorter or less wearying than they were before. Stress releases extra cortisol into your body, which triggers fat storage.
(5) There’s also the boredom. The younger you are, the more inquisitive you are about everything. Curiosity to know what it’s like to have “abs,” for example, can be its own motivation. Finding the motivation to keep up the extreme effort to maintain those abs can be pretty tricky after the initial buzz has worn off.
These are just a few reasons that aging can be problematic to your waistline.
Is any one of these a deal-killer? Not at all; they’re all fairly mild, and mostly benign. Taken together, however, these and other issues (this note doesn’t touch on many issues, like depression and other forms of unhappiness that can pop up as life goes on and delivers its trials to you) can have a real effect on weight loss / maintenance.
The Blessings of Aging
So what’s to be done?
The only way most people improve with age is in wisdom. As you age, use your newfound wisdom to come to terms with what your life and body are now like, and not what they once were. What allowed you to make [relatively] easy progress in The Good Old Days might no longer work (both physically and mentally) today.
Thus, the wisest move might be simply to acknowledge that you’re getting older, and that much of getting older works against you. Hopefully, with this common-sense attitude you will find the increased difficulty of losing weight less frustrating, and you will be able to make lifestyle changes in accordance with the other changes in your life.
Best of all, for what it’s worth, every year that goes by, your friends and peers are getting more and more out of shape—and the easier it is for you to shine, in comparison.
As always, readers are encouraged to submit their thoughts. Please, tell us: what gems have you learned over the years, and what helpful bits of advice have others shared with you? Also, if you liked this post, please share it on your favorite social medium!