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  • Writer's pictureMick Hurrell

Is mid-life weight gain inevitable? No!

It’s a simple fact, weight loss becomes an uphill struggle in middle age. There are many reasons for this. A slowing metabolism and shifts in hormones typically contribute to wider hips in women and paunches in men. Activity levels also typically begin a slow decline, and we naturally lose muscle mass – so that the average middle-aged body is increasingly composed of fat.

Men’s muscle mass declines more sharply than women’s in middle age. Do nothing and by the age of 50 you could be losing 0.5kg of muscle a year. After the age of 30, men can lose testosterone at a rate of 1.5%- 2% a year. The result is that metabolism slows and it's much harder to build muscle.

Female fat distribution changes most dramatically between the ages of 40 and 55. Most women find weight starts to creep on at a rate of about 0.5kg a year, tending to accumulate around the stomach. The classic “apple” shape can conceal the visceral fat that settles around the organs.

What it means is that weight gain in middle age is more or less inevitable, unless we act to prevent it. It’s important to have a safe and personalised programme tailored to you as an individual, but there are generic strategies that we can adopt to fight back strongly.


1. Reduce calorie intake by 300 calories per day

As our bodies age we need fewer calories for it to stay in energy balance. Ageing also affects the efficiency with which we digest and metabolise food. Public Health England recommends that a moderately active man aged 40-60 needs 2,600 calories a day to maintain weight and a woman aged 40-50 needs 2,000. Those figures drop to 1,800 calories a day for moderately active women at age 51 and to 2,000 calories for men at 61. Most people eat 200-300 calories too many each day. You can cut 300 calories a day by foregoing a muffin or a latte.

2. Eat more protein

While it’s important to eat fewer calories as we get older, where those calories come from also matters. Dropping pounds through simply eating less can lead to muscle and bone loss, which can raise the risk of conditions such as osteoporosis. But making sure that you consume relatively more protein in combination with resistance exercise is key to ensuring that your body stays strong and slim. It doesn’t mean buying protein shakes and bars, it’s about increasing the proportion of protein in your meals. Start adding more chicken and fish, yoghurt, soya, nuts and pulses to your diet.

3. Keep tabs on your food intake

Systematically logging your food intake and monitoring your weight loss is the best strategy for keeping off the pounds. Write it when you bite it.


1. Keep up the cardio

Some cardio activity is needed for all-round fitness and a healthy heart and lungs but very long-duration cardio should be replaced by shorter distances such as 5km running or some cycling combined with resistance training. If you’re not a runner, try brisk walking.

2. Lift weights

We lose muscle with age and it tends to be replaced with fat tissue, which is less metabolically active and burns fewer calories. Weight training helps to offset the metabolic and physical changes that come with advancing age. The more muscle mass we have the greater our body’s fat-burning ability.

3. Do 60 seconds of squats daily

Weight around the middle is due to our bodies releasing too much insulin and by the time we hit middle age we are becoming more and more insulin-resistant. High-intensity exercise of any kind helps in the release of natural growth hormone which, in turn, counteracts insulin and targets belly fat.

4. Stay flexible

Although yoga is not good for fat-blasting, maintaining flexibility will help to alleviate stiffness after exercise, will keep posture in check and enable you to move freely with less risk of injury.

5. Exercise before breakfast

Working out on an empty stomach seem worthwhile for the middle-aged. People who performed exercise before breakfast burn double the amount of fat than the group who exercised after breakfast. The increased fat use is mainly due to lower insulin levels when people have fasted overnight, which means that they can use more of the fat from their fat tissue and the fat within their muscles as a fuel. In terms of overall weight loss, it doesn’t matter when you exercise, but a pre-breakfast workout means you are better able to respond to insulin, keeping blood sugar levels under control and potentially lowering the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

6. Can we beat our genes?

Some of us are genetically predisposed to putting on weight, but you can outwit your genes to some extent provided you select the right sort of activity. Six activities have been identified as most effective. Top of the list is running. Jogging regularly yields the best ratio of fat-to-lean tissue mass. Climbing, long-duration yoga sessions, ballroom dancing, power walking and long distance walking are also beneficial.


Resistance training — using weights and bodyweight exercises – is essential. Target the major muscles in the legs, arms and core. Keep doing some form of aerobic activity — running, swimming, cycling — but not to excess, as pushing yourself to extreme levels of endurance can result in even lower levels of male hormones. Reduce sugar and alcohol intact. You also need good recovery and sleep to maintain hormonal balance.


Some form of resistance training is essential — weights are worth the effort, but so too are simple bodyweight exercises such as push-ups and star jumps. Age, combined with too little exercise, also causes the underarm to lose elasticity and fat to accumulate. Your arms require constant attention if you are to avoid bingo wings. Use dumbbells at least three times a week to keep a shapely upper arm. High-intensity interval training [HIIT] exercise is best for back and belly fat.

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