You wake up one morning after age 40 and there are an extra 10 or 15 pounds that seem to have suddenly materialized. While it may feel sudden, this weight gain is actually a gradual process.
What you may also notice is that much of that weight seems to settle right around your belly. This mysterious fat not only seems to appear without warning it also seems like it’s completely immune to both diet and exercise.
When you were young, you probably didn’t spend too much time thinking about preparing your body for the future. In your teens and twenties, you’re in peak condition and it’s the perfect time to start exercising. Cut to 20 years later and, if you didn’t start exercising, you probably wish you had since there’s something we all start to experience in our 40’s—weight gain.
What Happens as We Get Older
What happens to our bodies after 40 is a trifecta of weight gain: Our hormones change, our metabolism starts to slow down and if we’re not lifting weights, we start to lose just a little more muscle every year.
That muscle can help protect us from gaining weight because it’s more metabolically active. When we lose that muscle, our metabolisms drop even more.
If you’re genetically predisposed to gain weight easily, that may be another strike against you. Even if you don’t actually gain weight, you may still gain inches around the waist. This weight gain can be so frustrating, it’s easy to become obsessed with losing it, starving yourself or exercising too much or maybe even looking into the latest plastic surgery procedure.
But, is that really necessary? Isn’t there something we can do about gaining weight after 40? There is and it starts with understanding just what’s going on with your body. We can’t control everything about our bodies, but the more we know what’s going on, the easier it is to find some acceptance for what’s happening.
Why We Gain Weight After 40
There is a multitude of reasons for weight gain after age 40. Some are genetic, some are the natural course of things, and some are due to lifestyle choices. The four most important contributors to weight gain include hormones, heredity, lower metabolism, and loss of muscle.
One of the main culprits for weight gain is, of course, our hormones, which start to change right around the mid-30s and into the 40s.1 This change in hormones, less estrogen for women and less testosterone for men, cause the fat in our bodies fat to shift to the middle of the body while abandoning other areas of the body you could care less about. That’s one reason you may get a little fluffier around the middle while other parts of you actually get smaller.
Scientists have found the specific genes that determine how many fat cells we have and where they’re stored. This is something we can’t really change and, if you look at your parents and relatives, you’ll see those areas where your family may tend to store excess fat.
There are a couple of things that happen to your metabolism after the age of 40. First, your basal metabolic rate (BMR) decreases and, second, you expend less total energy (TEE) during exercise.
Some experts suggest metabolism can decrease by about 5% for every decade after 40, which means you need about 60-100 fewer calories every 10 years.
If you sit more, eat more, exercise less, and deal with more stress throughout that decade, you’ll probably need even fewer calories than that. Add that to the fact that you burn fewer calories during exercise and you’ve got yourself an equation for weight gain.
Loss of Muscle
Like our metabolisms, we also start to lose muscle when we hit our 40s, experiencing a steady decline each decade. Part of this, scientists believe, is that the motor units that make up our muscles decline as we age and that those motor units don’t always fire with the same regularity.
However, the important takeaway here is this: The biggest factor in losing muscle is the lack of physical activity, which makes exercise a crucial component when it comes to preventing muscle loss. If you want to figure out the real deal, enter your information into a calculator to learn how many calories you really need for your age and activity level.