To jumpstart your weight loss, the biggest focus should be to develop habits that will help you build or maintain your muscle mass. "The most effective way that women over 40 can boost their metabolism is by building muscle through weight-lifting and resistance training," says Dr. Peterson (more on that to come). But nutrition and sleep habits also play a role here.
At 41, these are the things that I notice the most. My body does not bounce back as easily as it once did and I have to work a lot harder to manage my weight. Genetics play a role in the aging process, but our lifestyle choices can help dictate how well our genes treat us as we get older. After turning 40, these are six of the top lifestyle habits to focus on.
Pay attention to what you are eating. Read labels and ensure your foods are organic, nutrient-dense, and anti-inflammatory. Avoid eating in front of the TV, while standing up, and when busy with other tasks. Keep a regular eating schedule. If you are craving something, check-in with yourself to see if you are truly hungry or just thirsty, stressed, or bored.
Your muscles are important for bone density, strength, and overall health. However, your body starts to lose muscle as you age. Building muscle can increase your metabolism and help you burn more calories at rest. Muscle also takes up less space than fat, so you can feel leaner and toned as you increase your muscle mass. Good options to increase your muscle mass include light weightlifting, body weight exercises, and Pilates.
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.
Chronic stress can increase cortisol in your body, and lead to high insulin levels. You may even end up craving more sugary and fatty junk food,41 resulting in more stubborn pounds and belly fat. Managing your stress will increase your overall well-being and can help with weight loss. Breathing exercises, meditation, dance, gentle exercise, journaling, and listening to uplifting music are some of my favorite ways to lower stress.
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.
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.
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.
As you reach mid-life, the pressures pile up. Just think of the typical stressors, like caring for kids and aging parents, facing financial burdens and dealing with the demands of a job. When you’re experiencing stress, your body responds by releasing the hormone cortisol. If your stress diminishes, your hormone levels return to normal, but if you’re experiencing ongoing stress from “adulting,” cortisol levels will remain high. This can set off a series of biological events that may lead to an increased appetite with more cravings and a propensity to store fat in your belly.
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."
One of the main culprits for weight gain is, of course, our hormones, which start to change right around the mid-30s and into the 40s. This change in hormones, less estrogen for women and less testosterone for men, cause the fat in our bodies fat to shift to the middle of the body while abandoning other areas of the body you could care less about. That's one reason you may get a little fluffier around the middle while other parts of you actually get smaller.