Dr. Nelson, I turned 40 last year. I exercise as much as I ever did (walking or bicycling about a half-hour four or five days a week), and my eating habits haven’t changed, but I’ve gained one whole dress size. What can I do to stave off this creeping weight gain?
As I am sure you know, gaining weight as we age–particularly after the age of 40–is very common. The unfortunate part of this process is that as the scale is creeping up, the amount of body fat is increasing while the amount of muscle is decreasing. This makes weight loss even more challenging, because the less muscle we have, the fewer calories we burn.
While aerobic exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness and burn calories, it does not seem to influence muscle mass or strength. Strength training, on the other hand, has been shown to increase both muscle mass and muscle strength. Strength training also has been shown to increase bone mass, which is extremely important for women because of the increased risk of developing osteoporosis.
Given the details of your exercise program, there are three areas of your fitness and nutrition where adjustments may help:
* Strength training
* Daily physical activities
* Getting the most from the food you eat
As people age, especially after age 40, they lose one-third to one-half of a pound of muscle each year and gain that much in body fat. Although this may seem minuscule, in fact it is quite significant as it translates to about a 1 to 2 percent loss of strength each year. With this loss of muscle strength, we tend to spontaneously become less active because daily activities become more difficult and exhausting to perform. But strength training has the power to maintain your muscle mass, your strength, and keep daily activities doable and fun!
How Strength Training will Help You Lose and Maintain Weight
When discussing strength training and lean body mass, we are primarily talking about the amount of muscle in your body. As strength training helps you build new muscle, you will enjoy a boost in your metabolism. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn throughout the day—whether you are walking, vacuuming, or sleeping. This is because muscle is metabolically active. Stored fat, on the other hand, is not metabolically active, uses very little energy, and therefore burns minimal calories.
Daily Physical Activities
As you gain muscle mass, you get two real boosts for weight control. First, your metabolism will increase so that you can eat more and burn calories more effectively. Secondly, because you are stronger, physical activity becomes easier and more fun.
To burn more calories throughout the day, tack on an extra five to 10 minutes to your regular aerobic exercise. Also, try to get at least 30 minutes or more of physical activity on most if not all days of the week. With time constraints, it can be difficult to incorporate more structured exercise; instead, get more daily physical activity by:
* Walk or take public transit rather than driving whenever possible
* Throw away the remote controls
* Use the stairs rather than the elevator or escalator
Remember, every little bit helps!
Get the Most from the Food You Eat
It is so important to get the most vitamins, minerals, and satisfaction as possible from the food you eat.
* Try to eliminate white breads and rice from your diet and replace with whole grains—like whole wheat bread, bran, oats, and brown rice. These products contain many more nutrients, will fill you up more, and keep your hunger away longer.
* Load up on fruits and vegetables—things like cucumbers, carrots, jicama, apples, and grapefruits make great snacks.
* Try keeping food logs—you may be eating more than you think.
* Drink a tall glass of water before assuming you are hungry. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. And remember to drink at least eight glasses of water each day.