Where your metabolism is concerned, 50 is not the new 30. Resting metabolic rate – the number of calories your body burns while at rest – decreases as both men and women get older, which means you need fewer daily calories as you age. Moreover, significant weight loss through dieting can slow your metabolism even more. Your best bet for losing weight after 50 is to go slowly – maintain a healthy diet that provides the most nutritional benefits for your calories, and remain physically active.
Caloric Needs for Those Over 50 Years Old
At any age, women and men have different daily caloric needs. To maintain her weight, the National Institute on Aging reports that a woman over 50 needs 1,600 calories if she's sedentary, 1,800 if she is somewhat physically active, and 2,000 to 2,200 if she is very active. That's about 200 fewer calories every day than she needed at 30.
For weight maintenance, sedentary men over 50 require 2,000 calories a day, while moderately active men need 2,200 to 2,400 calories, and very active men should take in 2,400 to 2,800 calories. For safe weight loss, at the rate of 1 pound a week, women and men need to create a calorie deficit of 500 calories daily, either by eating less, ramping up their physical activity, or doing a combination of both.
It's not just as simple as that, however. Your nutritional needs change as you age, too, so you need more of certain vitamins and minerals and less of others. If you use up your calories on poor food choices, you may not get the calcium you need, for example, to protect your bones as they lose density.
Whole Foods Diet for Good Health
If you don't already, plan to forgo fast foods and other nutrient-poor choices and incorporate more whole foods into your daily regimen for weight loss. These are nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils. As one plan, the National Institute on Aging recommends people over 50 get 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups of fruit daily, 2 to 3 1/2 cups of vegetables, 5 to 10 ounces of grains, 5 to 7 ounces of lean protein, 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat dairy and 5 to 8 teaspoons of healthy oils. Keep added sugar to a minimum by limiting the number of processed foods you take in.
Sample Menu for Weight Loss
For a moderately active woman trying to lose weight, a 1,300-calorie regimen of whole foods supports gradual, healthy weight loss without sacrificing nutrients or satiety. Make sure you get protein and fiber at each meal, the two nutrients most associated with keeping you feeling full. To give you an idea of what this might look like, have a container of plain low-fat yogurt for breakfast with a cup of sliced strawberries and an ounce of chopped walnuts. At lunch, dip chopped veggies and whole-wheat pita bread into 1/2 cup of hummus, and follow with a medium apple. For dinner, try 3 ounces of grilled salmon or chicken with a cup of roasted Brussels sprouts or another green veggie and a medium sweet potato. You'll still have room for a 200-calorie snack or dessert, like a handful of nuts, a small smoothie, or an ounce of dark chocolate. You can adjust the menu up or down, based on your caloric needs.
Exercise Plan for Those Over 50
Regular physical activity not only burns calories, but it also helps prevent diseases commonly associated with aging, like heart disease. The National Institute on Aging advises getting 30 or more minutes of endurance exercise at least five days of the week. By "endurance," they mean any activity that gets your heart pumping and has you breathing hard – brisk walking, swimming or biking, for example. Other activities count, too – dance with your spouse, rake leaves, or run around the yard with your grandchildren to get yourself going. You can exercise in several installments throughout the day. At least one large study, however, found that middle-aged women need twice that amount of moderate activity – a full 60 minutes a day, every day – to maintain their weight.
Don't forget that you also need strength, balance and flexibility exercises as you age. Strength training helps build and retain muscle as you lose pounds, while balance and flexibility exercises will help you stay mobile and active as you get older.
- Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging: Changes in Resting Metabolic Rate in an Elderly German Population
- International Journal of Obesity: Effect of Diet Composition on Energy Expenditure During Weight Loss
- National Institute on Aging: Healthy Eating After 50
- Today’s Dietitian: Flourishing at Age 50 and Beyond
- European Food Information Council: What Makes Us Feel Full?
- USDA Nutrient Database: Foods List
- National Institute on Aging: Exercise and Physical Activity: Getting Fit for Life
- Harvard Gazette: 60 Minutes of Exercise Per Day Needed for Middle-aged Women to Maintain Weight