If you’re a woman in your mid-40s or older, you may wonder why it’s so much more challenging to manage your weight now than it used to be. Do you eat the same amount (or less than) you did when you were younger, but your clothes are not fitting like they used to? If so, you’re not alone.
It is a known fact that many of us may gain weight as we get older, and some of us will notice that where we store our extra weight shifts to different places. Research shows that everyone’s metabolism naturally slows down with age. There are multiple reasons for this: less physical activity, muscle loss, and other natural aging effects. While both men and women experience a decrease over time, women, in general, have been dealt the losing hand in the game of metabolism.
Why is it harder for most women to maintain their metabolism? To start, females typically have less muscle mass and more body fat than men do. Many of us go through pregnancies, and some of us struggle with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), an endocrine disorder that can make weight loss more difficult. Also, our metabolism takes a harder hit during menopause. The significant estrogen drop that comes with menopause slows our metabolism significantly, which often leads to postmenopausal weight gain, particularly around the middle.
Although some drop in metabolism is inevitable, there are things that you can do to help maintain your metabolism and improve your health along the way. Consider these lifestyle habits to boost your metabolism and help you live a long, healthy, active life.
Include Strength Training in Your Exercise Routine
We naturally lose muscle mass, strength, and function as we age. This loss begins as early as age 30. Experts estimate that we lose 3-5% of our muscle mass per decade, with a more significant decline after age 60. Muscle loss results in a slower metabolism and leads to frailty and falls, resulting in loss of independence in older age. Although we can’t stop muscle loss completely, we can slow it down. The best way to do that is by exercising.
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) data shows that almost 30% of Americans over age 50 are inactive. A higher percentage of women are inactive when compared to men.
While aerobic activities such as walking are beneficial for good health, strength training is crucial for maintaining strength and mobility and reducing injury risk. Strength training, also called resistance training, is exercise using your body weight or equipment (such as dumbbells, resistance bands, or weight machines) to build muscle mass, strength, and endurance. If you are new to strength training, be sure to start slowly. When weight training gradually increase the amount of weight you lift, the number of repetitions and sets you perform, and how often you do them. If you have a health condition, remember to always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Seek guidance from a certified personal trainer if you need help getting started or creating and sticking to a strength training routine.
Find an Eating Plan that Works Best for You
We are all different. Our activity levels, genetics, and food preferences vary greatly. No one eating plan fits all. However, many popular eating plans (whether paleo, keto, or plant-based) have two things in common. Each center around whole foods, in or near their natural state, and minimizes processed foods.
Whichever eating plan you decide to follow, focus on eating natural foods and getting enough protein. Adequate protein is essential for preserving muscle. Include foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins (meat, fish, poultry), healthy fats (avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, fatty fish), and various herbs and spices. Limit ultra-processed foods and sweets such as chips, cake, cookies, candy, sugary drinks, and refined grains (white bread, rice, or pasta). The Mediterranean diet is a well-researched example of a balanced eating pattern linked to numerous health benefits.
Need extra help? Find a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to meet your needs.
Make Sleep a Priority
Last but not least is sleep, which the National Sleep Foundation refers to as the “third piece of the puzzle,” along with diet and exercise, for good health. Lack of sleep negatively impacts blood sugar and insulin metabolism, increases hunger, appetite, food intake, and contributes to weight gain and obesity. It is no surprise that sleep deprivation not only makes us feel lousy but wreaks havoc on our metabolism and health. Make sleep a priority by limiting screen time before bed, getting outside during the day, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, and sleeping in a cool, dark room.
Although metabolism inevitably slows with age, eating well, staying active, strength training, and getting adequate sleep will offset the decline and may even give your metabolism a boost.