Weight gain is something I talk with my patients about almost daily. It’s a concern no matter what your age. Weight gain affects your self-confidence, can damage your joints, and can prevent you from doing what you want in retirement.
There are four common factors between men and women when it comes to weight gain. Women have an extra one! Some you can control, but others you cannot.
Reasons We Gain Weight As We Age
1. Loss Of Lean Muscle Mass
Loss of lean muscle mass is a natural part of the aging process, which, if we are not aware of it, can lead to an overall loss of muscle and progressively worsening weakness. We can change it, but we have to be intentional about our workouts. After the age of 30, we can lose as much as 3 to 5 percent of muscle mass per decade.
This is the natural process of sarcopenia which happens as we age. Loss of lean muscle mass causes our body’s composition to change from more muscle to more fat. This in term causes our metabolism to decrease. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism.
You’ve retired and you deserve to enjoy the finer things, right? Well, I caution you to still make your diet a priority. Healthy foods play a huge factor in your well-being as you age. Diets high in processed foods, fast foods, or sugar generally can cause inflammation, make you tired, and cause an insulin spike due to high glucose levels.
Now, I want you to think of insulin as a sort of growth hormone. Anything that raises insulin will make it easier to gain weight. The foods that trigger insulin the most are processed and high in sugar — like pasta, rice, candy, ice cream, chips, and pastries.
Unfortunately, stress does not go away. There are still plenty of things to worry about once you leave your full-time career. Some stressors will be new, like how to navigate being home with your spouse. Others will become more prominent, like health and finances. Stress plays a huge role in weight gain because the more stress you have, the more muscle you are breaking down due to high levels of cortisol. The less you sleep, the more likely you are to choose food or alcohol for comfort.
4. Decrease In Sleep
Sleep is very restorative and important. When you don’t sleep, you tend to gain weight due to those late-night snacks. Talk to a functional medicine doctor if you are having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or not waking up feeling refreshed and ready to go. If you tend to snore a lot through the night, consider discussing sleep apnea with your doctor.
There are some amazing supplements that help, but one of my favorite is magnesium glycinate, taken one or two nightly. Also, don’t eat a large meal or exercise within 2 to 3 hours of going to sleep.
5. Women Have Hormones To Blame
Many women come into my office complaining of a sudden 15-pound weight gain as they transition through to menopause. This weight is also very specific in that it is around the belly, Many women call this their “menopause belly fat.” There are many reasons that this happens, but the principal cause as far as hormones are concerned is that there is a sudden drop in estrogen. This leads to many other hormone changes that promote an “inflammatory-like weight gain” leading to belly fat. This is very reminiscent of going through menarche when women start their period and due to hormone changes at that time of their lives that are promoting “development” there is usually a 10- to 15-pound weight gain. Also, genetic factors play a huge role. If your mom gained 15 pounds and had a change in body habitus after menopause, then you will likely have the same if you are not mindful of how to prevent this.
Pro Tip: The scale is just one way to determine if your weight is healthy. You should also calculate your BMI, measure your waist to hip circumference, and check your fat percentage with a home monitor like this one.
Weight Gain Prevention
Now you know what can cause weight gain, let’s look at ways to prevent it or slow it down.
The type of exercise you do will change as you age. Listen to your body when you are exercising and stop when something doesn’t feel right. To keep your weight in check, make sure to incorporate weight training two to three times per week. You could also hire a personal trainer who specializes in senior exercise or join a barre or pilates class. These types of exercise programs will increase your muscle mass and metabolism. In maintaining a healthy weight, it is imperative that you keep a healthy muscle mass.
2. Add Protein To Your Plate
Generally, make sure to eat at least 60 grams of protein a day. Talk with your doctor or nutritionist especially if you have any kidney or heart problems. In fact, figuring out what macronutrient portions to eat with a functional medicine nutritionist will set you up for success. This is very important since protein will help with repairing and rebuilding the muscles.
3. Sleep Routine
Adding a nighttime routine to your evening will help you ease into dreamland. Turn off the phone, iPad, laptop, and TV an hour before bedtime. Incorporate sleep-wake cycles into your routine, which is basically going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Magnesium glycinate will help many fall asleep faster, especially if you are like many people who “cannot turn off your brain at night.”
You can also mix one tablespoon of tart cherry juice with 6 ounces of water. I personally like Stanton Orchards Montmorency Tart Cherry Concentrate found in the refrigerated section of WholeFoods. This will help your body produce natural melatonin. Find a calm breathing app or practice meditation. Don’t rush your bedtime routine. You could add in an Epsom salt bath or drink a calming tea. I like Yogi bedtime tea. Both the bath and the tea will help you relax.
Pro Tip: Also, I highly recommend looking into the hormone problem. Talk to your doctor about bioidentical hormone replacement. Or find a functional medicine doctor near you to discuss. This is very important because if hormones are done right, they can have a profound effect on your overall health and weight.
The goal as we age is to be as healthy and active as we can. There are limitations to what we can and cannot do, but I want to see my patients strive for the best and not settle for what they perceive to be “that’s just what happens when you get older.”