The aging process can be very unforgiving in its impact on the human body. Hair starts to thin and fall out, our memories begin to fade and injuries and illnesses appear with more frequency. As if these problems weren’t troubling enough, many older adults find that losing weight seems more challenging than ever before. This observation is actually grounded in solid scientific fact, as a number of internal changes make it much more challenging for the body to shed extraneous pounds. While slimming down after the age of 40 is certainly a tough task, it is a goal that can be achieved with a combination of patience, effort and lifestyle changes.
How the Body Changes With Age
As the body enters its fourth decade of use, it thyroid, metabolism and muscle mass can all start to wilt under the pressures of an aging body. Each of these weight-loss hurdles is further explained below:
Underactive Thyroid – It can be easy to overlook the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck. Though many are unaware of it, the thyroid plays a key role in the speed of your metabolism. The thyroid gland regularly secretes hormones that determine the speed at which your body converts food to energy. A thyroid that cannot function at full capacity means that its hormonal output will suffer, which in turn slows down the body’s metabolism.
In the United States, an underactive thyroid is most frequently attributed to a condition called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. This ailment is classified as an autoimmune disease, meaning that it causes the body’s own defenses to attack crucial organs, glands and tissues. In the case of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the thyroid is on the receiving end of the immune system’s onslaught. While this condition has no cure, patients can see a significant increase in thyroid activity after being given synthetic hormones.
Slowing Metabolism – As stated in the previous section, an underactive thyroid and a declining metabolism often go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, a poorly functioning thyroid is only one of several causes of metabolic problems. Another such malady that can slow your metabolic rate is Cushing’s disease, which occurs when an excessive amount of a cortisol accumulates in the body. An overabundance of this hormone can be caused either by overactive adrenal glands (located atop the kidneys) or from corticosteroid injections, which doctors use to treat chronic inflammation.
A sluggish metabolism can also be a self-inflicted problem, such as when people resort to crash diets to shed weight. These diets restrict the body to a dangerously low calorie intake, having the counterproductive effect of actually slowing down the body’s metabolic rate. In addition, the digestive system needs a steady supply of water to fire on all cylinders; when running low on water, the digestive tract can grind to a halt. Along with its many other benefits, exercise also enhances the body’s ability to rapidly burn off calories. Lifting weights on a consistent basis, for instance, can allow the body to expand an extra 100 calories daily, a figure which translates into ten pounds each year.
Loss of Muscle Mass – After the age of 30 or so, the average adult loses roughly 3 to 5 percent of his or her muscle mass per decade. Several different factors can work against your muscles as you age, including declining amounts of key hormones (testosterone for men, estrogen for women) and a sedentary lifestyle. In addition to a less imposing physique, a loss of muscle tissue can also leave its mark on your metabolism, reducing the speed at which it operates.
Making the Right Adjustments
Losing weight is always an uphill battle, and even more so as we reach middle age and beyond. While father time can certainly make attaining a thinner waistline a more challenging goal, the right approach can still turn such a fantasy into reality.
Keep A Close Eye on The Calories – At first glance, scarfing down 100 extra or so calories doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. The problem is that all of this excess snacking adds up – 100 calories here, 100 calories there, and pretty soon you’re talking about a lot of extra energy. Of course, this means more work for your digestive system, a task made all the more difficult with a less effective metabolism.
In response to this problem, you should strive to eliminate all of those little indulgences in your diet. Drinking a can of soda, for example, adds a quick 150 calories into your body. Candy bars and doughnuts can add 200 to 300 calorie units apiece. You would also be well advised to pay close attention to nutritional labels. While a product’s calorie count may seem reasonable at first, you must remember that most items contain several servings per package. This means that, should you plan on eating the entire product, the listed amount of calories can easily be doubled or tripled.
Get More Fruits and Veggies – You’ve no doubt heard about the importance of fruits and veggies in your diet since childhood. Mom’s advice was dead-on during your formative years, and it’s even more useful after hitting the big 4-oh. Both fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber, a nutrient which causes the body to feel “full” and stop craving food.
Not surprisingly, your intake of both of these key food groups depends on your gender, weight and level of physical activity. For example, a 40 year old man who exercises less than 30 minutes daily needs about 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of veggies per day. To make this task easier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed a daily fruits and vegetables calculator, which can be accessed at the following link:
Place a Greater Emphasis on Aerobic and Strength Training Exercise – Many people over 40 fail to get regular exercise, a habit that exacerbates metabolism slowdown and weight gain. Aerobic exercises and strength training can help mitigate and reverse both of these common age-related problems. To qualify as an aerobic activity, an exercise simply needs to increase the body’s need for oxygen. Walking, jogging, swimming, rowing and using an elliptical machine all meet this basic criterion.
Strength training exercises are often done with the aid of free weights. To maximize the weight-loss benefits of lifting weights, aim for three strength training sessions per week. You should perform 1-3 sets for each technique, and try for 10 to 12 repetitions per set. Use dumb bells that only allow you to perform the desired number of repetitions, and nothing more.