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Why losing weight is harder when you’re older – and what you can do about it


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Have you caught yourself piling on a few extra pounds as you’ve got older? Are your old dieting tricks no longer working as they did? Most people find that staying in shape gets harder with age, but this is no reason to despair. Once you understand how and why it’s happening, you’ll be better placed to tackle it effectively.

Metabolic changes

Everybody’s metabolism gradually slows down with age. This has some advantages – it’s one reason why elderly people are more likely to survive in the rubble after earthquakes than young, healthy people, because they can survive for longer without food. If you’re getting plenty of food, however, it can be a problem. The first course of action is to cut down your portion sizes and reduce saturated fats, which become harder to burn off. Drinking a lot more water – spread out over the day – helps to speed up your metabolism again, as does regular exercise.

The influence of hormones

Most women experience a significant drop in oestrogen levels during menopause, which changes the way that fat is distributed on the body. In men, testosterone production generally begins to decline around the age of 40. In both these cases, the result is an increased tendency to put on fat around the belly and to build up cholesterol in the bloodstream, which reduces fitness, making it harder to be active and so harder to burn off fat. The risk of developing diabetes and certain cancers increases as a result. Take control by reducing your consumption of foods that are high in fats and bad cholesterol.

Dietary changes

As we enter middle age, we tend to find that we have more disposable income. We can afford to treat ourselves more often, whether that’s a chocolate bar at lunchtime or a big takeaway at the end of the week. Social activities revolve more around food, so we spend more time in cafés and restaurants. Although we may not be binging in pubs and clubs at the weekends any more, bottles of wine with meals often mean that alcohol consumption actually rises. In other words, just at the point when we should be switching to 200 calorie meals, we overindulge. Keeping a food diary helps to get this under control.

Lifestyle changes

Older people are more likely to work in sedentary jobs than younger people, less likely to play sports, and less likely to go out dancing. They drive more and walk less, and they’re also less likely to spend time running around trying to take care of unruly children. All these factors contribute to declining fitness and increased build-up of fat. Disability also becomes more common, and if you’re in that situation, then you may need help from a physiotherapist to find the right form of exercise – your GP can arrange a referral. Otherwise, get out and get active – it’s not undignified and it can still be fun.

Despite all of these factors, getting fat in later life is not unavoidable. Pay attention to the risk factors, and get into good new habits, and the chances are that you can stay trim regardless.

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