Yes, 60 is the new 40 and 50 may be the new 30, but your scale has yet to receive the memo. Many middle-aged and older adults complain of expanding waistlines, along with the fact that weight loss becomes increasingly difficult as the years go by. But there’s good reason to stop only complaining about not fitting into your favorite pair of jeans and start doing something about it: New research shows avoiding weight gain with age is one of the best ways to help you live a longer and healthier life.
The recent study of more than 100,000 people, which was recently published in JAMA, reported that gaining as little as 11 pounds from early adulthood to age 55 was linked to a 30 percent increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, which is also associated with a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers, cataracts and osteoarthritis. And suffering from any of these conditions can ultimately lead to an early death.
While losing weight in your 40s, 50s and beyond may be somewhat challenging due to age-related changes, hormones and muscle-building growth factors, it’s certainly not impossible – or even as hard as you might think. In fact, many weight-loss experts say there’s no reason why the majority of people can't reach a healthy weight.
Start with a can-do mindset, then follow these six research-backed tips for losing weight at any age:
1. Eat most of your calories earlier in the day.
Mounting research suggests that eating the majority of your daily calories earlier in the day makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight and tempers blood sugar and inflammation. “To help with weight loss, eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper,” recommends Courtney Peterson, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama’s Nutrition Obesity Research Center. One study reported that dieters who ate a 700-calorie breakfast, 500-calorie lunch and 200-calorie dinner lost nearly 18 pounds in 12 weeks, compared to seven pounds lost among subjects who ate a 200-calorie breakfast, 500-calorie lunch and 700-calorie dinner.
2. Eat a protein-rich first meal.
A high-protein breakfast – think one with eggs or Greek yogurt – is proving to be a winning weight-loss strategy. Studies show that dieters who eat high-quality protein as part of their first meal help ward off hunger pangs, reduce cravings and help them lose fat while maintaining lean muscle mass. One study published in the International Journal of Obesity, for example, found that overweight women who ate eggs for breakfast as part of a reduced-calorie diet lost 65 percent more weight and 34 percent more belly fat than women who started their days with a calorie-matched bagel breakfast. Another study with overweight adults found that those who had an egg-based breakfast significantly reduced their calorie intake throughout the day and snacking between meals compared to those who ate a bagel-based breakfast with the same number of calories.
3. Limit alcohol.
Based on national surveillance data, adults of all ages are drinking more alcohol, and many are binge-drinking. One of the most effective ways to get your younger physique back is to cut back on your alcohol intake – or avoid it completely. A couple of glasses of wine with dinner or a couple of beers while watching a football game is 300 extra calories, explains registered dietitian Elisabetta Politi, nutrition director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center. What’s more, alcohol can increase your appetite and make you crave calorie-rich choices. In one study, researchers found that men who had one alcoholic drink before lunch ate, on average, 85 additional calories – that's 11 percent more calories – during their meal than when they did not drink wine, beer or a spirit.
4. Don't skimp on strength training or cardio.
You probably know that strength training is important to help you retain your muscles and keep your metabolism up, but cardiovascular exercise – think walking, jogging, cycling or swimming – is important, too. “I see patients who do a lot of strength training, yoga or Pilates, but aren’t doing any cardio," Politi says. "Cardio helps you burn lots of calories, so you create a negative calorie balance that results in weight loss.” She recommends adults strive to get at least 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. And in this case, more is better.
5. Stay on track.
Unlike cheat days (or weeks!) that took place in your 20s, there’s little wiggle room for parties, holidays and vacations to slip up or pig out when you’re in your 40s and beyond. “The body’s metabolism is less resistant to overeating as you age,” Peterson says. This is why so many adults over 40 complain that they feel the effects of seemingly minor slip-ups on the scale the next day. If you know you’re attending a party or will be eating out, it’s critical to account for those extra calories by either eating less or exercising more before and after to avoid weight gain.
6. Get more sleep.
No, you aren’t dreaming. According to Peterson, many adults are so busy with work and family that they skimp on shut-eye, which actually makes it harder to lose weight. “Lack of sleep causes your appetite to surge and increases the desire for higher-calorie foods,” Peterson says. Several studies now show that adults who routinely get less than six hours of slumber a night are more likely to have significant weight gain over time than those who sleep seven or more hours on most nights. While optimal hours of sleep are highly individualized, most adults need somewhere between seven and nine hours a night.