There appears to be a connection between estrogen and body weight regulation. With lower estrogen levels, lab animals tend to eat more and be less physically active. Levels that are too high or too low appear to lead to fat storage. And, lower estrogen levels may also slow down your metabolic rate (the speed at your body converts stored energy into working energy).
Have you noticed a little extra cushioning on your bottom, belly, and hips and increased difficulty losing those stubborn extra pounds? You are not alone. This is a common problem that women face as they are entering perimenopause and menopause. As a woman over 40 (and turning 50 this year), I understand your concerns. However, as a physician, I know that it is possible to achieve a healthy weight at this time of our lives.
“To achieve and maintain a healthy weight as we age, it’s imperative that we incorporate a ‘movement portfolio’ into our daily lives,” said Kushner. He explained that your portfolio should include activities of daily living (like walking, using the stairs and house cleaning), active fitness activities (like bike riding and using the elliptical machine) and resistance-training exercises. Kushner also recommended trying to reduce the time you spend doing sedentary activities like watching TV. “These targeted action steps will boost metabolism and help maintain muscle mass,” he said.
If you're genetically predisposed to gain weight easily, that may be another strike against you. Even if you don't actually gain weight, you may still gain inches around the waist. This weight gain can be so frustrating, it's easy to become obsessed with losing it, starving yourself or exercising too much or maybe even looking into the latest plastic surgery procedure.
“There are many eating patterns that can be used to lose weight,” says William Samuel Yancy, M.D., director of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center and associate professor of medicine at Duke University. Many have evidence behind them, whether that’s keto, Paleo, Mediterranean, vegan, or anything else. Interestingly, there’s not as much research on what works for men as there is on women, but “for men, sometimes it’s as simple as shortening the time in which you are eating to an 8- to 10-hour window a day,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D.N., consultant for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine for the Cleveland Clinic. Even something as straightforward as not eating after 6 PM can make a big difference—one of her male clients who lost 150 pounds found that to be especially helpful, she says.
It’s usually not just due to losing muscle mass over time (more on that later). "It's multifactorial," says Fatima Stanford, MD, MPH, obesity medicine physician scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Numerous factors can sneak up on you and help you gain or hold onto weight, including your lifestyle, your food, your biology, and your sleep habits. The good news in that is that there are also numerous ways to tackle getting your weight to where you want it—you don't have to force yourself into one approach, and you get to choose what works for you.
Oxidative stress occurs when the balance between free radicals in the body and our ability to fight against them is uneven, with free radicals prevailing. Free radicals can cause disease and there is an association with an increased risk of formation of free radicals as we age. That's why after a certain age, building up our defenses (through having lots of antioxidants in plants) can help reduce this imbalance and stack the cards in our defense system instead.
That delicious plate you just bought or cooked up might temp you to gobble it up in just a few bites, but that's probably not a good idea, says Palinski-Wade. "Eating slowly, eliminating distractions at meals, and even putting your fork down in between bites all allow you to get in touch with your body’s satiety signals and to stop eating when satisfied."
Changes in your activity levels are one of the main reasons that losing weight after 40 may be more challenging than before. Like many women, you may be putting others first and simply not finding time to exercise. You may also notice that your joints can no longer handle the same activities as before. However, a lack of exercise can lead to muscle loss and fat gain.
Between desk jobs, commutes, and family activities, many 40-somethings don’t have a lot of free time to work out. But it’s important -- for your weight and your overall health -- to fit in at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate physical activity (like brisk walking or light yard work) every week. Pencil times in to your calendar, and make them a priority.