Why it’s harder to lose weight as you age, and what to do about it

Jun 29, 2020
The key driver of weight loss or weight gain is energy balance. Source: Getty

Weight loss can be difficult for anyone. But if you’re over 50, it can be even harder. In order to understand why, we need to delve into some basic physiology and nutritional science.

The key driver of weight loss or weight gain is energy balance. Simply put, the amount of energy in (food and beverages) versus the amount of energy out (metabolism and exercise). For example, more energy in and less energy out equals weight gain. Around 60 to 75 per cent of our energy needs are attributed to our resting metabolic rate (RMR). This is the amount of energy we need to keep our body’s basic functions working. However, as we age our metabolism slows down and instead, our fat mass increases.

Exercise and daily physical activities like walking, gardening or grocery shopping are responsible for the second-largest portion of energy expenditure. Once again though, for over-50s, these things tend to be performed with less frequency, intensity, and consistency.

When it comes to diet and nutrition, no matter how much exercise and activity you accumulate, and how much lean mass you have, if you eat and drink more calories than you burn, you’ll put on weight. So, in order to lose weight and maintain a healthier body composition, we need to be able to tip our energy balance the other way.

There are hundreds of nutrition and exercise programs available at the touch of a button and almost all of them work, in theory. Compliance and adherence are the things that let most of us down. This is why it’s so important to find a strategy that is right for you and that you’re able to stick to.

As a baseline, any good weight-loss program for over-50s should contain the following:

  • A realistic exercise plan that burns more calories than you consume
  • Strength training as part of an overall exercise regime. Building and maintain muscle mass will help speed up your metabolism and slow the loss of lean tissue
  • A focus on protein intake. Protein helps maintain our lean tissue, fills us up for longer, and requires more energy to digest
  • A wide range of fruits and vegetables to ensure vitamin and mineral requirements are met
  • A strategy for increasing and maintaining the amount of non-exercise activity we perform. For example, gardening, cleaning the house or grocery shopping.
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