By Annie Hayes via Men's Health
Is your belt tightening with every passing birthday? Here’s how to call time on creeping weight gain and start on a path towards a leaner, healthier you.
IF THE NUMBER on the scales is heading skywards with every extra candle on your birthday cake, you’re not seeing things. Even the most dedicated fitness buff can’t completely sidestep the physiological changes that come with growing older.
As you age, your body becomes inefficient at processes it once excelled at, says Joe Mitton, a physical therapist from Click For Therapy in the UK. That’s why it suddenly may seem harder to shed weight than it did before.
Some people accept the extra few pounds. But keeping your weight in check and your muscles strong can help you lower your disease risk and protect your body from injury, so you can stay active and healthy for years to come. Here are four things that may be affecting your weight as you age—and how to fight back against them.
1. YOUR TESTOSTERONE LEVELS DROP
As the years stack up, your T-levels droop—around one percent each year from the age of 30 onwards, in fact. When they do, there’s far more than your hairline and libido at stake. Testosterone is a hydrophobic molecule, which means that it likes to stick to fat, explains Bevan Viljoen MSc, National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified performance enhancement and corrective exercise specialist in the UK. “It also helps to build muscle, fuels metabolism, and maintains insulin sensitivity, which can help in the prevention of type 2 diabetes,” he says.
When your T-tank is low, your body becomes less efficient at these essential functions, making it far easier for last night’s pizza to become today’s belly fat. What’s more, numerous scientific studies have found obesity impairs the production of testosterone. The takeaway? Low testosterone makes it easier to store body fat, and excess body fat lowers testosterone levels.
Fat cells promote the conversion of testosterone to estrogen and estrogen encourages your body store fat. As testosterone is also needed to build muscle, a decrease in the hormone makes it harder to see gains and subsequently harder to lose weight.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Get moving. A study from Tsukuba University and Ryutsu Keizai University in Japan found that 12 weeks of aerobic exercise—activity that gets your heart pumping and you breathing heavy, like sprinting or lifting a heavy weight—significantly increased the testosterone levels in overweight and obese men, with the greatest gains seen among those who pushed themselves the hardest.
Up your intake of “good” HDL cholesterol and healthy fats. Filling your plate with foods like olive oil, avocados, egg yolks, and nuts could also help you boost your testosterone levels. Researched published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that people who ate diets with higher amounts of monounsaturated fats saw larger boosts in their t-stores than those who skimped on the good-for-you fats.
Monitor your stress levels and your sleeping habits. Having excess amounts of cortisol, a stress hormone in your body, saps your T-levels, according to research from the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine—but getting a decent night’s shut-eye will help you preserve what you’ve got.
2. LESS MUSCLE = MORE FAT
Electrical forces bind all of your body’s molecules together, but these forces begin to weaken in your 30s, so some of those molecules begin to malfunction. Strength and coordination are usually the first to go, and muscle mass drops. If you don’t take steps to prevent it, you’ll lose about five pounds of muscle by the time you hit 40.
This is bad news beyond your diminished strength. “After age 30, you lose about half a pound of muscle per year if you’re sedentary—which turns into 2.6 pounds of fat per year, just because of metabolic slowdown,” says Tom Seabourne, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist at Northeast Texas Community College and author of Athletic Abs: Maximum Core Fitness Training. In that trade-off, everybody loses.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Add a pound of muscle. Muscle tissue needs more calories for maintenance and rebuilding processes than fat tissue does. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn—even at rest. “Gain just one pound of muscle, and that’s an additional 50 calories you’ll burn each day,” says Seabourne. Try a workout that calls for a slower lifting tempo but keeps the weights fairly heavy, so you can build muscle mass. “It’s still cool to lift heavy, but you need to pay strict attention to your form and protect your joints,” Seabourne says.
Build muscle for daily activities. Switch your fitness focus from mirror muscles to functional strength, flexibility, and balance. Your tendons and joints aren’t as sturdy as they used to be when you were a kid; pay attention to form to prevent injuries. Slow-tempo exercises are safer for your joints, but you’ll still want to maintain a high intensity.
Play with heavy metal. Don’t shy away from heavy weights because you think you’re susceptible to injury. As long as you use proper form, which you should master now if you haven’t already, heavy weights will keep your bones strong and your muscles large. Doing moves with correct form will also help you develop your balance.
3. YOUR METABOLISM SLOWS DOWN
Just in case muscle loss wasn’t enough, your fat-burning engines start to sputter as well. “If your body were a car, it’d require less gas to run as it grew older,” says Jordan Metzl, M.D., author of The Exercise Cure: A Doctor’s All-Natural, No-Pill Prescription for Better Health and Longer Life. In fact, your body consumes 12 fewer calories per day for each year after 30.
This is why the weight can quickly pile on, even if your diet remains the same. If you notice your weight creeping up but you’re not eating any differently, you may be tempted to slash calories in an attempt to stop the uptick, but this strategy can backfire. When you crash diet, you can end up losing around 25 percent of that weight from muscle, making the problem worse, say experts.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Limit your fuel. You need less now, so don’t feel obligated to clean your plate at every meal—leave that to the dishwasher. When you snack, don’t eat from the box or carton. If you dole out a reasonable portion, you’ll be less likely to absentmindedly eat the whole container.
Try eating six small meals daily instead of three big ones. It’ll keep your furnace stoked, making it burn fat more efficiently. And it’ll also boost HDL (good) cholesterol and cut LDL (bad) cholesterol.
4. ACHES AND PAINS CAN DERAIL YOUR WORKOUTS
Flexibility starts decreasing in your 30s, not only because you’re likely to sit in an office chair for hours every day, but also because many of the activities you do—running, weightlifting, even basketball—don’t call for a full range of motion. “There’s actually a shortening of both muscle and connective tissue,” says Brent Feland, Ph.D., an aging and flexibility researcher at Brigham Young University.
By the time you’re in your 40s and 50s, many men begin to have joint trouble, which is often a result of overuse injuries and osteoarthritis.
Also looming: Bone loss. Bone minerals are lost and replaced throughout life—it’s a natural process—but after age 35, the loss begins to outpace the replacement. By the time you hit 50, this imbalance can hurt you.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Say yes to yoga. “Yoga requires you to go through full ranges of motion and to hold those positions,” says Feland. Take a class once a week and use the moves everywhere. “Get out of your chair and into a stretch while you’re watching TV,” advises Feland. “It’s really easy to do. You just have to develop the habit.”
Ride a bike. Researchers at Arcadia University studied 39 people suffering from osteoarthritis of the knees and found that cycling just 25 minutes a day, three times a week, significantly improved pain relief and performance in walking tests. So saddle up.
Strengthen your bones by stressing them. Walking beats swimming, running beats walking, and strength training is the best bone builder of all, says Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, Ph.D., head of kinesiology at the University of Illinois.
Roll your foam. Inactivity can tighten your spine and pelvic muscles, forcing your knees and lower back to compensate. That’s why they ache, explains Mark Verstegen, author of Core Performance. Exercising with a foam roller can loosen the muscles around your pelvis and torso, making it easier—and less painful—for you to move around. Add this move to the end of your next workout: Lie on top of the roll with your arms crossed over your chest. Keep your abs tight and your feet on the ground. Glide on the roll from your shoulders to the base of your spine several times until you feel the muscles release.
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