Many of us have experienced it firsthand: As the years go by, the pounds become more difficult to keep off. But have you ever wondered exactly why we experience weight gain as we age? Hint: your eating habits actually aren’t to blame. There are a variety of reasons, explains Dr. Caroline Apovian, the Director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center, professor at the Boston University School of Medicine and the vice-president of The Obesity Society. A change in hormones, a more sedentary lifestyle and an increase in stress and decrease in sleep due to added responsibilities are just a few.
“But a major reason for middle aged weight gain is the natural muscle loss we all experience,” Dr. Apovian, the author of The Age-Defying Diet and The Overnight Diet: The Proven Plan for Fast, Permanent Weight Loss, says. “The amount of lean muscle mass we have is the primary determinant of metabolic rate. In other words, the more muscle mass we have, the more calories we will burn. Our muscle mass naturally begins to decline around age 30, and that process, called sarcopenia, accelerates around age 40. Unless something is done to actively protect and build up that lean muscle mass, our bodies will require fewer calories, our metabolisms will slow, and the lost muscle will be replaced by fat.”
So, what can you do to prevent sarcopenia?
- “Exercise with weights at least twice per week, building up in both weight and intensity as you progress,” Dr. Apovian says.
- “Get plenty of sleep – amongst other health benefits, this gives the body time to repair and rebuild the muscles.”
- “Eat a diet rich in lean protein sources.”
Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute suggests going for proteins like: eggs, fish, poultry, as well as plant-based versions: tofu, beans, lentils, chickpeas, plus nuts and seeds.
It’s also important not to skip meals in order to “save” your calories for a bigger meal later. “Your best bet is to eat consistently — smaller, satisfying meals that combine protein and fiber,” London says. “Eating regularly will help you stay energized for strength training, keep your metabolism stoked and keep the urge to overdo it at any given meal at bay.”
Good examples of filling snacks: An apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter, a piece of part-skim cheese with a cup of fruit, 1 oz of nuts or roasted chickpeas, 1-2 cups of sliced veggies with 1/4 cup hummus or an unsweetened Greek yogurt with a cup of fruit.
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