Fitness + Well-being

Weight gain with age: Why it happens and how to stop it

As we get older, we tend to gain weight — and not just because we’re less active. Instead, we lose muscle mass as we age, which lowers our body’s resting metabolic rate, Lauren Blake, a dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Fox News. (The lower our body’s resting metabolic rate, the fewer calories our body burns at rest.)

Where the weight goes
Age doesn’t just pack on the pounds — it changes where those pounds go. The culprit? Sex hormones. As these decrease over time, men and women’s weights tend to shift in predictable ways.

For men, that means more belly fat as they lose testosterone, Blake said. Men’s testosterone levels start to gradually decrease after about age 30.

For women, the change is later but much more sudden. Right before menopause, typically in a woman’s 40s or early 50s, her estrogen levels begin to wane, Blake said. Fat deposits then tend to move toward the hip, thighs, and buttocks, though Blake pointed out that everyone is different.

Eduard Tiozzo, PhD, a researcher at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine who studies exercise, nutrition and chronic illness, told Fox News that during and after menopause, many women also see their weight shift toward the middle, turning into visceral fat, which surrounds the abdominal organs. Visceral fat can leave you at an increased risk of developing certain diseases.

Can you help stop these weight shifts?
The good news is that these weight shifts aren’t inevitable: Fitter and healthier people tend to have less of a problem with them, Blake noted.

“The biggest thing is to be consistent with our healthy eating and exercise,” she said, adding that weight training is especially essential to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass, a process that can make our bodies less metabolically active. And opting for a high-fiber diet full of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can help stave off the weight gain that would turn into excess pounds.

Tiozzo agreed on the importance of resistance training to preserve muscle mass, and noted that high-intensity cardio (think alternating sprints and walks) can help your body more effectively break down visceral fat compared to low-intensity cardio (such as a longer bout of walking with no change in pace), even if you burn the same amount of calories in each session.

And what about improving one specific body area? Both experts agreed that, unfortunately, there’s no way to reduce fat in just one portion of your body — it’s about burning calories and losing weight overall.