As you age, your metabolism slows and your muscle mass decreases, which can lead to weight gain in the long run. A sample meal plan for a 50-year-old woman should be high in protein, with moderate amounts of carbs and fats. Regular exercise, especially strength training, is paramount.
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Weight Gain and Aging
You eat the right foods, hit the gym regularly and have an active lifestyle. Yet you keep gaining weight. Your waist is getting bigger, your arms look flabby and you seem to be losing muscle tone. Like it or not, these changes are normal with aging.
The aging process causes muscle loss, increases in fat mass and changes in fat distribution up to age 70. Most individuals tend to accumulate fat in the abdominal area as time goes by. If left unaddressed, these issues can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and premature death.
Although you can't stop aging, you can reduce its impact and enjoy good health. If you have obesity or overweight, even the slightest weight loss can help. In a February 2014 clinical trial published by the journal Obesity, older adults who had overweight and obesity that lost weight experienced major improvements in cardiovascular health and range of motion within 18 months. At the same time, they gained lean mass.
Weight loss can also increase your lifespan and protect against heart disease, the leading cause of death in adults age 60 and over. A clinical trial featured in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in June 2013 found that dietary-induced weight loss may reduce inflammation, which is a major contributing factor to cardiovascular problems.
As the North American Menopause Society points out, women tend to gain weight around the midsection due to the hormonal changes associated with menopause. In fact, about two-thirds of women between the ages of 40 to 59 carry extra pounds. As you reach midlife, you can expect to gain around 1.5 pounds per year.
Read more: The Best Diet to Lose Body Fat for Women
Luckily, there are ways to prevent and reduce weight gain in your 50s. Diet and regular exercise can make all the difference. The key is to be consistent and make lasting lifestyle changes. After all, you want to look and feel your best, regardless of age.
Change Your Eating Habits
Obesity and other chronic disorders have a lot to do with your lifestyle. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise, sleep deprivation, stress, depression and anxiety all contribute to the onset of chronic diseases, according to a review featured in the April 2014 edition of BioMed Research International.
For example, diets high in sugar, salt, trans fats and alcohol can lead to inflammation, triggering a chain reaction in your body. Insulin resistance, heart disease, dementia and Type 2 diabetes often have an inflammatory base.
The first thing to do is to cut out processed foods from your diet. Don't obsess over calories right now. Just make sure you fill up on whole foods like dark leafy greens, tomatoes, zucchini, fresh fruit, fish, lean meat, nuts and seeds. Enjoy them raw, grilled, steamed, boiled or roasted, rather than fried.
Read more: 10 Ways to De-Junk Your Diet
Swap refined oils for extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil and other healthy fats. Olive oil, for example, is a staple of the Mediterranean diet.
Rich in antioxidants and omega-3s, olive oil fights inflammation, improves blood lipids and reduces cholesterol oxidation, as reported in a February 2019 review published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition. Furthermore, olive oil may help decrease body mass index, total body weight and waist circumference when consumed as part of a balanced diet.
Another thing you can do to lose weight is to replace your go-to snacks with fresh fruits, almonds, walnuts, veggie sticks or low-fat dairy. Fruits, for instance, protect against obesity and its complications while making it easier to maintain a healthy weight. Rich in fiber, they increase satiety and curb hunger, leading to reduced calorie intake. Additionally, certain nutrients in fruits stimulate fat breakdown and prevent fat accumulation.
Determine Your Calorie Needs
Changing your eating habits can help you slim down, but you must also keep an eye on your calorie intake. If you eat too much of anything, you'll end up gaining weight.
For example, 1 tablespoon of olive oil (13.5 grams) boasts 119 calories. According to a cohort study published in BMC Medicine in May 2014, the risk of heart disease may decrease by 10 percent and mortality risk by 7 percent for each additional 10 grams of olive oil consumed daily. Despite its health benefits, however, this functional food can add unnecessary calories to your diet when consumed in excess.
If you add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to your meals, that's an extra 337 calories per day or 2,359 calories per week. The USDA recommends no more than 5 or 6 teaspoons a day for women and 6 or 7 teaspoons for men, depending on their age. These numbers are not set in stone, but if you're serious about weight loss, you need to create a calorie deficit.
There are approximately 3,500 calories in one pound of body fat. Therefore, if you want to lose five pounds, you must either burn 17,500 calories through exercise or cut them from your diet. Or, you can combine diet and exercise for faster results.
Read more: The Truth Behind 20 Diet and Exercise Myths
A cookie-cutter sample meal plan for a 50-year-old woman is unlikely to work. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss. An ideal diet should match your daily calorie needs and lifestyle habits.
Make Exercise a Habit
Nutrition is just one piece of the puzzle. Remember that aging causes a decrease in lean mass. Compared to body fat, muscle tissue uses more energy to sustain itself. Therefore, muscle loss will slow down your metabolism and make it harder to lose weight and keep it off.
Regular exercise can help build and preserve muscle while improving your health. A November 2014 study featured in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health found that both high- and low-exercise groups maintained lost weight over a three-year period. Furthermore, physical activity prevents age-related muscle loss, boosts muscle function and may reduce heart disease risk in postmenopausal women, as noted in a review published in Maturitas in November 2016.
For best results, use a mix of strength training, interval training and cardiovascular exercise. Aerobic activities, such as running, hiking and cycling, burn massive calories and increase muscle strength.
If you're short on time, split your workouts into mini-sessions. For example, practice yoga or Pilates first thing in the morning, take a brisk walk on your lunch break and go jogging later in the day.
- NCBI: Current Obesity Reports: "Weight Management in Older Adults"
- Obesity: "Effect of an 18‐Month Physical Activity and Weight Loss Intervention on Body Composition in Overweight and Obese Older Adults"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Older Persons' Health: Leading Causes of Death Among Persons Aged 65 and Over"
- Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: "Independent and Combined Effects of Physical Activity and Weight Loss on Inflammatory Biomarkers in Overweight and Obese Older Adults"
- North American Menopause Society: "Midlife Weight Gain — Sound Familiar? You’re Not Alone"
- BioMed Research International: "Beyond Obesity and Lifestyle: A Review of 21st Century Chronic Disease Determinants"
- Frontiers in Nutrition: "Network Meta-Analysis of Metabolic Effects of Olive Oil in Humans Shows the Importance of Olive Oil Consumption With Moderate Polyphenol Levels as Part of the Mediterranean Diet"
- NCBI: Revista Espanola de Salud Publica: "Olive Oil and Body Weight. Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- MDPI: Nutrients: "Paradoxical Effects of Fruit on Obesity"
- USDA: "Olive Oil"
- NCBI: BMC Medicine: "Olive Oil Intake and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality in the PREDIMED Study"
- USDA: "All About Oils"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- Better Health Channel: "Metabolism"
- Journal of Physical Activity and Health: "Dietary Habits and Weight Maintenance Success in High Versus Low Exercisers in the National Weight Control Registry"
- Maturitas: "Benefits of Physical Exercise in Postmenopausal Women"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Do Short Bursts of Exercise Help?"