No one likes to hear it, but you can’t escape the fact that as you age, it’s tougher to stay at a healthy weight. Suddenly, the eating habits that have kept you trim for years don’t seem to stop the number on the scale from inching up with every birthday—and you can’t put your finger on why. It’s frustrating, and it happens to all of us.
Instead of reflecting on what hasn’t changed—your eating habits, activity level—it’s important to think about what has changed—your metabolism, body composition and the emotional ups and downs specific to your life stage.
There’s no magic solution to freeze time, but working to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is a real chance to feel as young as possible. It can lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and more; help improve symptoms of arthritis, muscle pain and depression—even boost your sex life. Seize the day—and the opportunity—to live your most vital year, every year.
Rev Up Your Metabolism
Metabolism is the internal process that converts the calories you consume into the energy you use to not only lift a suitcase or run up the stairs, but carry out normal bodily functions like breathing and circulating blood. Muscle plays a big role in keeping things humming along—the more you have, the more calories you burn (not just when you’re breaking a sweat, but when you’re at rest, too).
Unfortunately, everyone naturally loses muscle mass with age. While that can stack the cards against you when it comes to weight management, adding weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises to your routine can help you minimize muscle loss and, therefore, the effect it can have on your calorie burn. Added bonus: It can also improve bone density. High-impact activities (hiking, dancing, tennis, stair climbing) and low-impact exercises (walking, using the elliptical machine) count, as does lifting weights, practicing push-ups or stretching exercise bands. Try your favorite for at least 30 minutes every other day.
Be Mindful of Portion Sizes
It naturally follows: A slower calorie burn means your body is going to be less forgiving of that endless bowl of ice cream. It’s wise to manage portion sizes at any age, but it’s more important now than ever to not overdo it. First, get a good sense of how many calories you are consuming and where they are coming from by reading food labels. Then, work on cutting back. Counting out your crackers instead of eating them out of the box, setting aside and packing up leftovers before you sit down to dinner and putting your occasional Rocky Road indulgence in a smaller bowl are just a few ways to easily curb your consumption.
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Raise Your Heart Rate
Even if you eat less, you still need to engage in exercise that will help you torch those calories your body used to use up without much extra effort. Nothing does that better than heart-pumping aerobic activity, which is considered one of the most important habits of people who lose weight and keep it off long term, according to the National Weight Control Registry. In addition, it’s believed that aerobic exercise may alter levels of the hormones that control hunger, helping you feel satisfied on fewer calories. Aim for two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. Running, cycling and swimming are perfect choices.
Make the Connection Between Food and Mood
An empty nest, adjusting to retirement and the loss of a loved one are all common life changes that can have a profound effect on your mood. For those dealing with uncertainty, loneliness, sadness or even depression, food can act as a balm, helping them to cope. Stress, a common concern as we age and juggle work, home and family, can also cause you to lean more heavily on food as a comforting mechanism. Mindless eating can only make avoiding weight gain as you age harder, particularly if you’re opting for what many consider comfort foods, such as sweets and high-calorie meals. If this sounds all too familiar, make it a point to find solutions to help you better manage your feelings—stress management techniques, consulting with a therapist or whatever is appropriate for you.