When you were young, you probably didn't spend too much time thinking about preparing your body for the future. In your teens and twenties, you're in peak condition and it's the perfect time to start exercising. Cut to 20 years later and, if you didn't start exercising, you probably wish you had since there's something we all start to experience in our 40's—weight gain.
If you are taking the appropriate measures (e.g., eating enough of a calorie deficit for your age and body composition, stressing less, and working on strength training) and still not losing weight, and you also have other symptoms of hypothyroidism (such as constipation, fatigue, dry hair and nails), then it may be worth considering getting your thyroid levels checked," advises Dr. Peterson.
Difficulty sleeping can be a symptom of menopause, so it's not uncommon for women in their 40s to struggle with getting enough sleep. Unfortunately, this can also cause weight gain. "When you get less than seven hours of restful sleep, metabolic changes occur that can make it significantly harder to lose weight," says Palinksi-Wade. "The appetite hormone ghrelin is increased while leptin (which controls hunger cues) is reduced, triggering an increased desire to eat, especially for foods rich in fat and sugar. Insulin resistance increases, which can trigger the body to store fat."
“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.
Soda and other sugary soft drinks are all empty calories that may result in weight gain and health problems. Don’t be fooled—diet soda is not better. It’s full of artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and often caffeine that can disrupt your health.31,32 It can interfere with your hunger hormones, increase your appetite, and lead to weight gain.33,34 Herbal teas and green juices are a good option.
In your forties, your body may have an increasingly difficult time digesting carbohydrates, which may lead to weight gain. Living a stressful life can lead to an increase in the stress-hormone called cortisol, which can make you more prone to gaining belly fat. Estrogen loss may also lead to fat redistribution in your body and cause belly fat gain.11
“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.
Unfortunately, you can't just focus on one area of your body. "Women should focus on all muscle groups in order to lose weight and build muscle because there's no such thing as spot training," Diamond reminds. "With that said, women have a tendency to gain weight in the midsection as we age and focusing on the core and a well-balanced workout will help to reshape body composition."
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.
The more years we live, the higher our risk of developing a disease, especially heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. All of these conditions are tied, in some way, to inflammation. A 2017 study from Georgetown showed that mindfulness meditation had a significant impact on reducing stress hormones and inflammatory proteins and a 2014 study found that just 25 minutes of meditation a day could alleviate stress levels.
Focusing on being healthy means getting about 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. This level of exercise can keep your heart healthy and work on things like lowering your cholesterol and/or blood pressure. This is a great place to start if you're getting into exercise after a long break. There's no reason you can't start here and progress to more intense goals as you build strength and endurance.