Why Is It Harder For Women To Lose Weight After 40?
You're not imagining it. Losing weight becomes harder as you age.
At age 30, you started losing a half-pound of muscle each year. If not properly rebuilt or maintained, this natural muscle loss can effectively slow your metabolism for years to come.
In your 40s and 50s, women go through menopause, which causes a litany of hormonal changes and an increased risk for weight gain.
Why Weight Sticks as You Age
"Menopause lowers the amount of estrogen in a woman's body," said Anna Mihelich, PA-C, a certified physician assistant for Franciscan Health Weight Loss Center in Indianapolis. "Because estrogen regulates hunger, body weight, glucose, metabolism and insulin sensitivity, lower estrogen levels tend to cause an increase in fat in the abdominal area."
Another big factor with weight loss is ensuring you get enough sleep.
“Make sure you get enough sleep. With more women in the workforce, potentially having to take care of kids and things around the house, they may not be getting enough sleep,” said Alex Molina, MD, a family medicine doctor for Franciscan Physician Network Chesterton Health & Emergency Center in Chesterton. “We recommend 7 to 8 hours of sleep. If you’re consistently less than 6 hours, it’s been shown to decrease immune system, slow down metabolism and increase appetite, and these all have a negative impact on the body.”
Other possible reasons for age-related weight gain include:
- Late pregnancy - Women who have babies later in life may find it harder to lose pregnancy weight.
- Continuing unhealthy eating habits - At 16, you may have been able to eat a bowl of ice cream at 9 p.m. and maintain the same weight. At 45, eating habits like this can contribute to weight gain.
- Physical inactivity - The State of Obesity project reports that 80 percent of U.S. adults are not active enough for optimal health. Combining inactivity with unhealthy eating habits exacerbates weight gain. Get simple steps for increasing your daily activity.
- Habitual yo-yo dieting - Losing a lot of weight fast through crash dieting will more likely result in a loss of muscle than fat. When you stop the crash diet, the weight returns as fat. Repeating this process over many years causes more weight gain.
- Stress - Stress is common for adults dealing with career and family-related responsibilities, and it can affect your weight. Stress releases a hormone called cortisol to start the body's fight-or-flight response. Because your stress is not typically life-threatening, the cortisol goes unused and is stored in the body as fat.
Focus on Muscles, Not Just Fat
Slow down age-related weight gain by protecting your muscles. Eat plenty of protein (eggs, salmon, lean meats, low-fat dairy). Dr. Molina stated that the cornerstone of weight loss is a good diet.
“We need carbohydrates, which are our energy source. We tend to over consume them and don’t use the energy, so the body will store that,” Dr. Molina said. “Work on cutting out the simple sugars like candy, cookies and ice cream.”
Strength-train two to three times per week. Exercise regularly and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts.
“We preach cardio, but it is really important for women to engage in some sort of resistance training, because this helps build muscle that they are losing,” Dr. Molina said. He stated that resistance training helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis for women as they get older.
“Exercise helps with our mental health and overall physical health,” Dr. Molina said.
“It’s hard work. Weight loss is not easy, and it doesn’t come in a pill or come from a fad diet. It’s a combination of improving your diet and exercise. It has to be lifelong and it is important to maintain these changes once you’ve made them.”
Need additional support? Learn more about registered dietitians through Franciscan Health.