Why is weight loss for women over 40 so hard? Mostly because our metabolism slows down as we age. The metabolic rate is the rate at which we burn calories, so it’s closely connected to weight.
For every decade past 40 our resting metabolic rates goes down about five percent. (The resting metabolic rate is the rate at which the body burns calories when it is at rest—sleeping, sitting, etc.) Because the resting metabolic rate decreases we burn calories more slowly. That means we will gain weight if we do not increase physical activity and/or take in fewer calories. To maintain our weight after we turn 40 we need to consume about 100 fewer calories each day to make up for our slower metabolism.
Everyone loses muscle mass as they age, but women in middle to older adulthood seem to lose muscle mass twice as fast as men of the same age. The loss of muscle mass is significant in terms of weight gain because muscle mass is seven-to-ten times more metabolically active than fat, which means it burns more calories. Lost muscle mass equals slower calorie burning equals weight gain.
Aging is not the only reason women over 40 loss muscle mass. Repeat dieting, food allergies, and lack of physical activity also contribute to the loss of muscle mass.
Weight Loss for Women Over 40
If you do not reduce your caloric intake by about 100 calories a day to offset the slowing of your metabolism you stand to gain ten pounds in one year. There is no mystery about how to lose (or maintain) weight when your metabolism slows down: You have to create a calorie deficit to adjust for your slower metabolism. Put simply, you have to eat less and exercise more.
Instead of guessing about the calorie content of the foods you eat you can look up the information on online calorie counters. You can also find that information on the nutrition labels of packaged foods. Be sure to consider serving size (also listed on the labels) of the foods.
Another word on serving size: everyone has a different idea about what a cup of rice or a tablespoon of peanut butter looks like. Because it’s hard to eyeball portions, it’s a good idea to use measuring cups and measuring spoons, especially when you are starting out counting calories.
You can make simple changes in your diet to decrease your daily calorie intake by 100 calories.
• Drink less soda. One cup of orange soda has about 120 calories. A glass of sparkling water has no calories.
• Replace fruit juice with whole fruit. One cup of orange juice or apple juice has about 110 calories. A small apple or orange has half as many calories. If you usually drink two cups of juice a day you can save 100 calories by eating two pieces of fruit instead.
• Make vegetables half the bulk of your dinner. Vegetables contain a lot of water and are less calorie dense than proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
• Limit high fat foods such as nuts, cheese, and creamy sauces and dressing to one per meal–and a small serving at that.
• Use vinegar and oil, lemon juice and oil, or fat-free salad dressings instead of regular bottled dressings. Two tablespoons of bottled vinaigrette salad dressing can run 90 calories. Save 50 calories just by choosing the fat-free version. There are 144 calories in two tablespoons of bottled ranch dressing; the reduced fat version has 29 calories and the fat-free version has 17 calories.
• Have a medium-size piece of fruit for a snack. Just three pretzel rods have as many calories as two pieces of fruit. Plus, you’ll get better nutrition and a greater sense of fullness for the calories with fruit than with pretzels or chips.
• Limit alcohol. Twelve ounces of beer has about 150 calories. Light beer runs around 50 calories less for the same amount. Replace two beers with two light beers and you’ve saved 100 calories. Five ounces of red wine runs to 125 calories; cut out one glass and you’ve cut out the extra calories.
Exercise for Women Over 40
Besides contributing to a whole host of other problems, the lack of physical activity makes it very hard for women over 40 to lose weight. When asked why they don’t exercise, women often say they don’t have enough time.
If you want to exercise more, find a way that fits into your schedule and your lifestyle. You don’t need to run a marathon or spend hours in the gym. Anything that will increase your physical activity is a good place to start. Here are a few tips:
• Start slowly. It takes a while to build muscle and stamina. Avoid injury by taking it slow and easy.
• Vary your activities and do activities that you like so you don’t get bored. Boredom is one of the main reasons people give for not exercising.
• Drink plenty of water.
• Rest as needed.
• Be sure to breathe while you exercise.
• If you already exercise at least 30 minutes a day five days a week, step up the intensity: Walk up hills, bike longer distances, do more repetitions in the gym.
• If you have a medical condition it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have been physically inactive for a while.
• The National Institute on Aging recommends strength training for older adults at least twice a week. They recommend exercises that involve the major muscle groups.
You Can Do It!
You don’t have a choice about getting older, but you do have a choice about gaining weight as you age. Weight loss for women over 40 is a simple formula of using up more calories than you take in. If you are having trouble losing weight, talk to your doctor. Your medical provider may refer you to a nutritionist, dietician, or trainer to help you set up an individualized weight loss program.