Let me see if this sounds familiar: you’re over forty and exercising regularly. You eat a balanced diet and pass on dessert at parties. And yet, you can’t get rid of those extra pounds. If this scenario describes you, you’re not imagining things. Oftentimes, losing weight does get harder as you get older, even if you’re someone who has always been able to easily manage your weight with diet and exercise. Starting at age 30, most people begin to lose about half a pound of muscle per year. What does this have to do with weight loss? The more muscle you have on your body, the better your metabolism works. So it’s not just in your head: losing weight after 40 is more difficult than when you were younger. But you don’t have to feel like weight loss after 40 is impossible. Here are six ways to lose that extra weight after 40.
“Instead of eating less of everything and feeling deprived, you want to replace more calorie-dense foods, such as fried foods, high-fat meats, cookies, cakes, candies (and) chips, with nutrient-rich, less calorie-dense foods, such as vegetables, fruits, salads, bean dishes, broth-based soups and whole grains like oatmeal,” said Kushner, adding that the high water and fiber content of foods like these increase their volume, making them more satisfying for fewer calories.
Hormonal changes are one of the main reasons that women tend to lose more muscle as they approach menopause. Diet and exercise also play a role.12 On average, adults lose 3 to 8 percent muscle every decade after age 30.13,14 By the time you reach 80, you may have about 30 percent less muscle than you had at age 20.15,16 Muscle loss over time can lead to slower RMR, increased fat, weight gain, weakness, and fractures.17
This is for your health, not your looks. Excess weight can increase the risk of inflammation, pain, and disease. As you get healthier, you will have more energy for your family, friends, and activities you love. You may be approaching midlife, however, the best is yet to come! If you follow these simple dietary, lifestyle, and mindfulness strategies, you can lose weight in midlife and face your future in your best shape yet.
Eating well isn’t just about skipping out on processed junk food. It’s also about filling up your plate with clean, healthy foods that can actually assist in your weight loss. Healthy fats like those found in olive oil, avocados and nut butters nourish your body while helping you feel full longer—which means you’re less likely to overeat. Incorporating healthy sources of protein like eggs and salmon will also help you feel more satiated as well as fuel the muscles you’re building through that regular strength training we mentioned above! Hungry during the day? Keep a small pack of heatlhy almonds or other nuts in your bag to snack on in a pinch. Just a handful will keep you satisfied until your next meal, all while providing healthy protein, fat and fiber. Don’t wait until you’re tummy is growling! Be prepared.
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."
3. Keep a food journal or use an app to track what you eat. As we get older, our metabolisms naturally slow down. That means you need less food. If you’re still eating as much as you did in your 30’s, you’ve probably had to buy a whole new wardrobe or 2 by now. Apps like “My Fitness Pal” or “Lose It” help making weight loss goals easier by keeping you on track. Or you can go old school and write everything down then look up the calories. Not all calories are created equal, but one is for sure, taking in more than you burn leads to more body fat.
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
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.
As you enter your forties, you are also entering perimenopause, when levels of your sex hormones progesterone and estrogen decline. Besides regulating your menstrual cycle and reproductive functions, these hormones also impact restful sleep and relaxation. A decrease in progesterone and estrogen levels may lead to sleep disturbances, restlessness, and insomnia.1 Because changes in sleep patterns have been associated with weight gain, sleepless nights may make weight loss increasingly difficult.2
Exercise can actually increase your energy. Just three hours of exercise weekly can improve the health of menopausal women.35,36,37,38,39 You may be able to add aerobic exercise into your everyday life without even noticing it! Take a walk during lunch with your colleagues. Go for a bike ride with your family after dinner. Put some music on while cleaning the house and add some dance moves. Jump on an elliptical trainer or treadmill instead of sitting while watching your favorite show.
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.