Many people dread the middle-age spread, and the truth is that it is harder to lose weight at 40 than it was when you were 20. Simply skipping dessert won't take off the pounds the way it may have when you were younger, because your lifestyle has changed and your body is in a constant state of change. As your body changes, so do its needs.
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Your metabolism slows as you age, partly because you are probably less active, but also because aging robs you of calorie-burning lean muscle mass. This phenomenon strikes different people at different times. According to the National Institute of Health, men tend to gain weight until age 55, and women tend to gain until 65 -- then the weight begins to drop off.
To prevent weight gain, divide your calories into five or six small meals throughout the day, and get plenty of exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes per day of moderate aerobic exercise and a strength-training routine that works each muscle group twice per week. This can help you keep more muscle and burn off fat.
People who are in their 40s are likely to be stressed about work, teenagers, aging parents and financial concerns, and stress can lead to weight gain. Constant stress can alter your hormone levels, disrupt your sleep habits and generally make you less likely to stick to a healthy routine.
Stress also raises your risk of coronary disease, so learning to relax benefits more than your waistline. Learn yoga, tai chi, meditation or any other relaxation technique that appeals to you -- even something as simple as a long walk with your dog can help. Exercise also combats stress, so get moving on a regular basis.
Don't skip your yearly checkup, and tell your doctor about your trouble losing weight. An underactive thyroid often makes itself known in a person's 40s and can make it more difficult to lose weight. Ask your doctor for a thyroid test, and if your results fall on the borderline, see an endocrinologist for a second opinion. The "normal" result for a TSH test is a topic of controversy, and a general practitioner may not be up-to-date on the latest findings. If your thyroid is indeed underactive, a simple medication can fix the problem and your weight will likely drop.
Most women know that menopause makes you gain weight by altering your hormones, but many don't know that perimenopause, or "almost menopause," can begin in your 40s. As your hormone levels fluctuate, not only are you likely to gain weight, but it will probably stick around your abdomen even if you usually carry extra weight around your hips and thighs.
While this process is a natural part of aging, stay active and watch your diet. Find support in friends or family members who are in the midst of perimenopause themselves, so you can share ideas and solutions as well as just commiserate.