No single age group is spared when it comes to weight gain. But if you’re in your 40’s, 50’s, and beyond, the problem’s a bit closer to home. Now, there are several reasons for the faster fat accumulation that occurs in mid-life (AKA the middle-age spread). Diet and hormonal changes are definitely on top of the list. Nevertheless, this article will examine another common cause that’s just as important.
A functional metabolism is essential for fat loss. And, a big factor that determines how well your metabolism works is lean mass (i.e. muscle mass). The more of it you have, the faster you burn fat, and hence, the less likely you are to store it. The mechanism for this is two-fold.
The most commonly described (and the one you may have already heard about) is that muscle burns more calories than fat. How much more is still up for debate. Needless to say being leaner is better in the weight loss department.
The other way muscle mass keeps you slim is its effect on insulin sensitivity. The more muscle you have, the less insulin your body needs to secrete to clear sugar from your bloodstream. Why does this matter? Because, in addition to shuttling sugars, insulin is a fat storing hormone. The more of it you release, the fatter you become.
Now, given the above facts about lean mass, it’s plain to see why middle-age spread is a widespread phenomenon. The average person over 35 loses 5% of their muscle mass each decade. A scary statistic, no doubt, but a real one nonetheless. Obviously, the more lean mass you lose, the less the above described mechanisms work.
Therefore, even if you didn’t change the amount of food you ate, you’d still end up gaining weight over time. You simply wouldn’t be able to burn off the calories you consumed.
The typical advice to counter this is to eat fewer calories. While this can work, you’re still losing muscle every year. Doesn’t it make sense to reverse this process (and hence, the tendency to gain weight)? Of course it does. So, how can you accomplish this?
Easy: lift weights!
For the past year, I’ve been on a program called Starting Strength. The results have been phenomenal. It consists of a handful of compound exercises (e.g. squats, deadlifts, cleans) that utilize a large portion of muscle groups concurrently. By doing so, they allow you to increase lean mass much more effectively than isolation exercises (e.g. bicep curls).
Of course, many are quick to discount a workout like this. After all, it can be quite intimidating (deadlifts? really?). With that said, if you give it a chance (and work with someone who is knowledgeable in this arena of training) you too can achieve an amazing outcome – no matter how old you are.
Still not your cup of tea? That’s fine. But do some kind of resistance exercise – even if it’s just bodyweight stuff: pushups, pullups, air squats, etc… Because not only will you be actively stopping (and reversing) middle-age spread through the buildup of muscle, you’ll also keep your bones strong well into your later years.
Need more reasons to start? Your heart will get stronger, you build better immunity to disease, and overall, you’ll look good naked! So, hit the gym and hit it hard!