Do you remember what it was like to be able to eat anything you wanted to? Maybe, if you’re very, very lucky, you still can! But if you’re like most of the 40+ year old crowd I know, myself included, your metabolism has changed substantially.
I remember waking up and eating a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast without a second thought. In between meals, if I felt like it, I might grab a handful of M&Ms or some potato chips. Pizza for dinner with the children was not an uncommon occurrence. When it came to food, I was bulletproof. I was living the nutritional equivalent of a life without consequences. Then, sometime after I turned 50 the bottom, or my bottom to be more precise, quite literally fell out.
I woke up one morning and found my breasts on my chest and my butt on my thighs. Equally frustrating, my clothes weren’t fitting me like they used to. Things that I used to wear with no problem were now tighter around my derriere and thighs. The sleeves were pulling around my upper arms. UUGH! Time was marching on. I was getting older and gaining weight. It was as though my formerly compliant body had developed a mind of its own.
My activity level was the same. My diet, including those bagels, pizza, and chocolate, remained consistent. I had learned how to manage healthy eating with splurge days. But something else was definitely going on.
It turns out, the problem was me and my habits.
I had changed. I was aging. When it came to food and exercise, I was no longer bulletproof. If I needed further proof of that fact, a routine physical revealed that my blood pressure was elevated. I was diagnosed with hypertension. Sure, I had a genetic predisposition to develop high blood pressure that I inherited from my parents. However, I wasn’t helping matters with many of my lifestyle choices.
The things that worked for me when I was in my 20s and 30s and 40s were not only changing my physical appearance, they were having an impact on my health. My time of living a nutritional life without consequences was over.
And it wasn’t just my issue. Many of my girlfriends were experiencing the same challenges and we were unwilling to simply roll over and accept the aging process as our parents and grandparents had. So I sought out the experts. I committed to make the necessary changes in my lifestyle that would empower me to be the best, healthiest and most productive woman possible. To live the most courageous and authentic third chapter in my life I needed the vehicle that was housing my mind and my spirit to be strong and healthy.
I learned about the physical changes that my body was going through as a result of age. I developed a greater awareness of what I really needed nutritionally, as opposed to what I wanted. I began to make better choices when it came to what I ate and the amount and type of exercise that I got.
The results were amazing. By developing a better understanding of my metabolic needs as a woman of 50 and now 60, I am happier and healthier now than at any other time in my life.
As we age, we begin to accumulate fat in places that were formerly fat-free. This is news to no one. We’ve all had the experience of looking in the mirror and seeing that there are parts of us that are noticeably less taut and lean than previously.
You also find that you can’t cut corners anymore in your diet and exercise regime like you used to. In fact, not only can’t you get away with cheating, but your normal diet and usual amount of exercise seem to be doing nothing to fight this new found weight.
These differences fool us into thinking that our metabolisms have changed for the worse. They must have slowed down. How else can you explain the additional pounds where before there was none?
The plain truth is that your metabolism actually hasn’t slowed down! However, there are other changes at work which are responsible for the new parts of you that you didn’t ask for.
There are two processes that make it harder for us to maintain our normal body weight as we age. Both processes, working together, begin to change our BMI (body mass index) and cause the extra weight that none of us are happy about.
The first process is fairly simple: as we get older, we begin to lose muscle mass. Starting around age 30, we start losing about 1% of our muscle mass per decade. This muscle loss accelerates the older we get. In addition, women typically lose muscle faster than men. (But who loses fat faster, I ask you? It’s patently unfair.) By age 60, we’re losing 3% of our muscle mass yearly.
Muscle tissue is very metabolically active. Typically, it burns two to three times more calories per day than fat. When you lose muscle mass, you lose the ability to burn calories efficiently. This is one of the reasons why, as you get older, you begin to gain weight even though you are as active as you ever were.
The second process involves our mitochondria. Mitochondria are the power centers of each of our cells. They give us the energy we need to function optimally. With age, we end up with fewer mitochondria due to free radical damage and increasingly inefficient cell reproduction. Fewer mitochondria mean that we’re not converting food into energy as efficiently as before. We simply can’t burn off calories like we used to. The result? You guessed it! We gain weight even though we’re active and eating right.
The loss of muscle mass and mitochondria can be a vicious one-two punch, especially if you don’t understand what’s going on. Luckily, there are effective ways to counter this age-induced weight gain that will help you get back to the body you know and love!
Protein builds muscle. Period. That’s protein’s sole purpose in life. So, if you want to begin regaining the muscle mass that you’ve lost, you have start increasing the amount of protein that you eat every day.
Studies have shown that a diet which includes 25-30 grams of high quality protein at each meal is optimal for building muscle in women over 50. This is especially true of women who are exercising specifically to maintain or build muscle mass.
Meat products are an obvious source of protein. However, don’t forget that there are other great sources of protein out there! Things like eggs, Greek yogurt, beans, and green vegetables like kale and broccoli rabe are high in protein and can easily be worked into any meal plan. I always finish my workout with a high quality protein shake.
My doctor gave me this great tip: never leave home without packing a healthy, crunchy protein snack in my purse. That way I never have to go longer than four hours without a protein boost. Here’s my go to: Saffron Road Chickpeas, (crunchy wildly flavorful Chickpea snacks packed with 12 grams of protein in a portion size. You can order them in really tasty flavors as well.)
Once you’ve upped your protein intake, it’s time to build some muscle! Any activity is better than no activity, but one of the most efficient ways to maintain and build muscle is with resistance exercises.
Lifting weights is the #1 resistance exercise to build muscle. The more you lift, the more muscle your body builds in response. And, just so we’re clear, we’re not talking about you becoming a gym rat of Schwarzeneggian proportions. We are talking about starting to lift moderate amounts of weight on a regular basis in order to counter the effects of aging.
And honestly, you don’t even truly need a gym or a set of weights. Resistance bands are effective, and are readily available online. These are essentially large rubber bands that create resistance as they are pulled on, and they can be used in a multitude of ways. Exercises that utilize your own body weight as resistance are also a great idea. Think pushups, crunches, leg lifts...good old calisthenics like back in gym class! (I think I can remember that far back...)
Proper diet and exercise are only two of the keys to reversing muscle mass loss. The third, and most important key, is self-care.
If you want truly want to gain more muscle and lose weight, then you have to make sure that you stay hydrated and well-rested. Water and sleep are essential detoxifiers. They rid our bodies of waste and by-products while, at the same time, promote the production of hormones and natural chemicals that are essential to muscle growth, repair and overall well-being.
Try and drink at least two to three liters of water each day and get at least seven hours of solid sleep every night. Water and sleep rejuvenate your body and spirit and allow you start each new day in peak form.
Sisters, I know this is where we all tend to slack...after all, we’re the caregivers – the wives, the mothers, the grandmothers. And often, we feel uber-guilty when we prioritize caring for ourselves. But remember, if you want to move courageously deeper into your most authentic life, you need to prioritize being happy, healthy and strong. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” and it’s true. The better you care for yourself, the better you can care for those around you who truly depend on your love and nurturing.
So it’s not optional. Self-care is where it’s at!
Are you struggling with your weight as you age? I can’t wait to hear what tips you find are supporting your continued evolution into strength, health, beauty and authenticity. Start commenting now!