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Why is Weight Loss Harder After 50?

Written by
Yumna Farooq
Team Nutrisense
Reviewed by
Heather Davis
MS, RDN, LDN
Two people jogging in the park

For some people, weight loss can become more difficult as they reach middle age and grow older. Losing weight after hitting the 50 year mark can be especially challenging due to a host of changes that happen within the body around that age.

Hormonal and metabolism changes can affect both men and women, albeit in different ways. If you’re someone who is struggling to maintain a healthy weight, the good news is that there are lots of ways to support weight management and help you reach your weight loss goals. 

In this article, we’ll cover exactly why weight loss after 50 is so hard and share a few tips to help you combat age-related weight gain. 

Losing Weight as You Age

a woman stretching at home

Why exactly does losing weight seem to become more and more difficult as you age? The answer to this question is very complex, as there are a variety of factors that may be stunting your weight loss as you get older.

Hormonal changes and changes in activity levels are just a few factors that may make weight management more difficult for aging adults. Some research shows that lipid turnover in the fat tissue can slow down with age, making it harder to keep off extra weight.

Another important factor may be declining muscle mass. Age related muscle loss, or sarcopenia, can lead to a slowing down of metabolic rate. This is because muscle is more metabolically active than fat, and loss of this metabolically active tissue can affect calories burnt.

5 Factors That Can Make Weight Loss Harder with Age

Now that you have a better idea of some of the factors that can contribute to difficulty in losing weight, let’s take a deeper look at what the research says about each of these changes.

1) Hormonal Changes

a women sitting on the couch and kitting

Researchers have found that hormonal changes around midlife can lead to increased weight gain. Due to disturbances of hormones that can come with aging, the prevalence of subclinical hypothyroidism can increase, making more older adults likely to gain weight as they age.

At the same time, research shows that insulin secretion decreases with age, which may increase the likelihood for insulin resistance and elevated glucose levels that may be stored as fat. 

Studies show that leptin levels can also decrease with age, but significantly more so in women than men. This decrease may also affect age-related weight gain for some people.

2) Menopause in Women

When it comes to women’s health, another age-related hormonal shift that can lead to weight gain is menopause. Menopause is marked by changes in sex hormones. These changes include decreased estrogen levels and increased androgens. This can affect fat distribution and weight gain.

One review investigating menopause found that menopause specifically contributes to abdominal obesity. This menopause-related increase in abdominal fat may be stubborn and hard to lose for many. 

While men may not experience menopause, they do experience their own unique hormonal changes through aging that can lead to weight gain. Research has shown that age-related weight gain in men is associated with a decrease in total testosterone, free testosterone, and sex hormone binding globulin, or SHBG. 

3) Changes in Muscle Mass

a man stretching his arm in the park

As you age, you may start to lose muscle mass, though this tends to affect men more than women. Muscle quality can also decrease with age, which can lead to a loss of strength. Interestingly, a loss of muscle mass is associated with some of the age-related hormonal imbalances we mentioned earlier. 

Other hormonal factors include changes in androgens such as testosterone. Because testosterone plays an important role in muscle strength and mass in men, lower levels of this androgen in the aging population contributes to decreased muscle mass

Growth hormones such as IGF-1 contribute to muscle mass and also decline through aging. Thus, the decrease in this hormone can lead to reduced muscle mass. A reduction in muscle mass can reduce metabolic rate, making weight gain much easier for older adults. 

There is limited evidence to suggest that changes in estrogen levels during menopause contributes to sarcopenia in women, however. This may be why sarcopenia affects men more than it affects women. 

4) Poor Diet

A poor diet in older adults is often attributed to factors such as a gradual loss of taste and smell, which can lead to adding more salt or choosing more processed foods with hyperconcentrated flavors. Not only are these foods often higher in calories, but they can lead to inflammation and poor blood glucose levels for some people. 

Both inflammation and poor glucose levels can aggravate the hormonal changes with insulin, and IGF-1, and lead to weight gain. Processed foods may also be low in nutrients such as protein that can support muscle growth, and have other potential effects on your well being. 

5) Sedentary Lifestyle

a man drinking a coffee while sitting down

A sedentary lifestyle is another factor that can lead to weight gain as you age, especially when paired with other factors such as a poor diet. This type of lifestyle is common in older adults, and studies have found a link between sedentary lifestyles and increased risk of obesity and mortality.

In older adults, factors such as having a smaller social circle, restricted access to spaces you can walk around in, or feeling too embarrassed to go to the gym may contribute to sedentary behavior. However, not moving your body or getting appropriate exercise can contribute to a loss in muscle mass and reduce your metabolic rate.

Tips for Combating Age-Related Weight Gain

Although age-related weight gain is a challenging phenomenon, there are things you can do to be proactive and combat weight gain after 50. Here are some effective tips you may try out if you’re dealing with age-related weight gain.

Stay Hydrated

a woman drinking a glass of water

Making sure you’re staying hydrated can play a big role in weight management. One study looked at the benefits of consuming water for older adults. In this study, researchers found that consuming two cups of water before a meal appeared to help older adults lose more weight when on a hypocaloric diet. 

This may be because drinking enough water may help to regulate appetite and increase satiety. While staying hydrated is important, you may want to focus on doing so with water and beverages with little to no added sugar such as coconut water. 

Check out some of our dietitian recommended tips for hydration if you need help increasing your fluid intake.

Increase your Protein Intake

Increasing your protein intake can help you retain more muscle mass and counteract sarcopenia. Protein is an important part of a healthy diet, and experts recommend that adults over the age of 65 consume between 1.2 and 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, whether they are sedentary or active.

However, older adults who have a chronic condition or are recovering from an illness or injury may benefit from consuming more protein, about 1.6 to 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. 

Retaining more muscle mass by consuming adequate protein may help improve your resting metabolic rate. Consuming more protein can also provide your body with the building blocks for hormones such as T3, T4, insulin, and leptin — all of which tend to decrease with age

Build Muscle

a woman jogging in the park

As we mentioned earlier, building muscle can help increase your metabolic rate. Because of this, focusing on muscle building can be an effective way to burn fat and support your body through the aging process. Increasing muscle mass can also support healthy insulin levels

The best way to build muscle is to include more resistance training or strength training into your workout routine. If you’re new to the gym, you may want to work with a personal trainer to create a plan based around your health needs.

Or, if weight training isn’t for you, you may try an activity such as jazzercise to mix in some light weight exercises and cardio to your day. If building muscle is your goal, find an activity that is enjoyable for you, and make exercise a priority throughout the week.

Add more NEAT to Your Day

Increasing your activity level by adding more non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, to your day may also help with weight loss and support your overall health. NEAT represents the number of calories you burn through daily physical activity outside of a formal exercise regimen.

Interestingly, NEAT activities can account for up to 15 to 30 percent of your daily calorie expenditure. It can also help you increase your metabolic rate, which can be helpful for age-related weight gain. Examples of NEAT include walking, doing chores, gardening, or even folding laundry.

Create an Exercise Routine You Can Stick to

two people sitting and meditating in the park

Making significant lifestyle changes can be challenging, especially as you age. To build muscle and incorporate more NEAT into your day, it may be helpful to create an exercise routine or a weight loss plan that you can stick to.

Pick one or two muscle building workouts you like, a few different ways to get more NEAT in, and then craft a routine around that. You may also want to consider the frequency of each exercise (for example, how many times per week you’ll be doing strength training). This can help you stay motivated and give concrete goals to stick to.

Reduce Stress

 Unfortunately, we all deal with stress on a daily basis. But the type of stress can look different for different people. 

Chronic stress can lead to inflammation, which then in turn can cause weight gain (especially as you age). That’s why reducing stress can be beneficial for losing weight, in addition to improving your well being.

Once you pinpoint the source of stress in your life, you can brainstorm a few ways to combat it. This could be as simple as communicating your needs. Some other ways include: 

  • Meditation
  • Journalling 
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Soaking in some sun 

Check out our article on relieving stress for more tips for dealing with this unpleasant feeling.

Rule Out Conditions such as Hypothyroidism

a man speaking with a doctor

As we’ve mentioned, certain conditions such as subclinical hypothyroidism, which can be a risk factor for weight gain, become more common as you age. If you’re noticing unexpected changes in your body composition, it may be important to bring this up with your doctor or healthcare practitioner. 

Your doctor can help you rule out any underlying or undiagnosed conditions that may be contributing to weight gain. 

Related Article

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