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Getting Older and Gaining Weight

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Updated July 08, 2010

We've always been told that aging a natural process that we can't control and part of that process can often involve losing muscle and gaining fat. It's true that getting older is associated with a loss of muscle, but it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. We can't stop the clock, but exercise can actually slow the aging process, helping you stay fit, healthy and avoid weight gain as you get older.

Why We Gain Weight As We Age
Most people think that gaining weight and getting older go hand in hand, but the reason we gain weight isn't just about getting older, it's about how our habits change. Many of us gain weight because we:

  • Become more sedentary
  • Don't lift weights to maintain muscle mass
  • Eat more calories even as metabolism slows down

While there are some elements we can't control, most of the weight gain that comes with aging can be avoided with a little exercise.

What You Can Do
The main reason for muscle loss (which lowers metabolism) is that we often spend way too much sitting - we sit at work, we sit when we watch TV and we sit when we play around on the computer. If we spend too much time doing that when we're younger, it's that much harder to stop doing that when we get older. It follows that being active (and lifting weights) will help preserve your muscle and increase your bone density while maintaining a higher metabolism. Before you get started, see your doctor, especially if you're on any medications or have any pain or injuries you're dealing with. Once you've got clearance to exercise, you can follow this basic approach to staying (or gettting) fit:

  • Cardio Exercise: Choose any activity you enjoy (or think you might enjoy with some practice) like swimming, walking or cycling and try to do that activity at least 3 days a week. Start with what you can handle and gradually add time each week until you can do 30 minutes of continuous activity.
  • Lift weights: Strength training may be one of the most important parts of your exercise program. You'll build muscle and strength while also working on important areas like balance, stability and flexibility - all things that tend to decline with age. You can start with a basic Total Body Workout 2-3 non-consecutive days a week or learn more about appropriate exercise options for seniors.
  • Watch Your Diet: The USDA has a food pyramid guide specifically for seniors with an emphasis on whole grains, fruits and vegetables and watching your calorie intake.
  • Be realistic. As you get older, it will take longer to lose weight, so it helps to focus on the process - getting your workouts in and eating as healthfully as possible. Do that and your body will respond in its own time.

If you find it hard to start or stick with an exercise program, motivate yourself by remembering what you do for your health when you exercise: you feel better, you look better, you reduce your chances of heart disease and diabetes and, best of all, you're doing what your body was meant for: moving around.

Sources:

Williams PT, Wood PD.The effects of changing exercise levels on weight and age-related weight gain. Int J Obes (Lond). 2006 Mar;30(3):543-51.

Williams PT, Pate RR. Cross-sectional relationships of exercise and age to adiposity in 60,617 male runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005 Aug;37(8):1329-37.

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