Yesterday, I asked my Facebook group for a writing prompt for today’s blog post. What fitness and health issues did they want to explore? Were there topics that they’d like me to research and share information about? Any exercise road blocks that they needed help navigating around? (At least that’s what my status update implied…)
Those that responded were almost unanimous in their preferred topic: Why is it so much harder to lose weight and make gains in the gym as you age? Or in their own words;
“talk about that point in your mid 30’s when your body turns against you and your metabolism changes and you have to work harder but you’re more tired and any small amount of salt makes you blow up like a blowfish…yeah, talk about that…”
“Do you have to work out double [or] triple [the time] as you get older? Or other tricks to the lower the time you need to work out available.”
“…seems like the past few years I need to put in even more time at the gym…..but maybe I have been slacking a bit too much in the diet area”
“But shouldn’t long endurance workouts still be part of a fitness regimen??”
“What’s up with hormones and weight gain after 40?”
As a recently turned 46-year old woman who’s most definitely smack dab in the middle of peri-menopause AND as the personal trainer of dozens of women with similar questions and physical challenges, this is a subject that’s NEAR and DEAR to my heart!
There’s SO much to say about hormones and weight gain after 40 that I can’t possibly cover it all in a single blog post (and that’s saying a lot, ’cause you know how ‘wordy’ I’m capable of being!).
Instead, I thought that we might explore the topic together, over a series of posts, guided by my research (you know how much I LOVE research!) but also fuelled by your comments and responses to the posts themselves.
I’d like to start the series by painting a picture of what naturally happens to our bodies as we age, in particular, from the mid-30’s to the late 50’s; the twenty year period during which hormones gradually change and menopause is typically reached (a woman is said to have reached menopause twelve months after the cessation of menstruation).
As you read through this list, don’t despair; there are lots of things we can do on the exercise and nutrition front to offset, slow down and in some cases REVERSE the normal trend!
- from about age 35 onwards, our bodies start to lose lean tissue. Organs (including your liver and kidneys) lose cells and muscles begin to shrink (or ‘atrophy’). Because muscle is metabolically active (meaning that it burns calories, even at rest), reduced muscle mass often results in a reduced metabolic rate.
- peak bone mass and bone density are reached by approximately age 30. Both decline by a percent or so each year up until the point menopause is reached, at which annual rates of bone density loss increase to 2-3%. For the average woman, this translates into a loss of about 53% of their peak bone density by the time they reach their 80th birthday.
- body fat increases steadily after age 30 and may increase by as much as 30% by the time menopause is attained. The distribution of body fat shifts from subcutaneous (under the skin, evenly over the body) to visceral (around the internal organs). Visceral fat is known to raise your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
- during the menopause transition, the ovaries gradually stop making the hormone estrogen. Estrogen is responsible for making your breasts grow at puberty and maintaining pregnancy by regulating the levels of another sex hormone, progesterone. When estrogen declines, cortisol and insulin production increase. Both contribute to fat gain, in particular, fat around the midsection.
- peri-menopausal and menopausal women frequently report changes in their sleep patterns. Difficulty falling asleep, middle of the night waking and insomnia all contribute to lower energy levels and feelings of fatigue. Chronic sleep deprivation is also linked to elevated cortisol levels (and we know what that leads to; see above)
- on average, women tend to continue gaining weight until about age 65, at which time weight loss occurs due primarily to muscular atrophy (as opposed to fat loss).
If this is the ‘normal path of aging’, is it any wonder that it becomes more challenging to maintain the physique of our early adulthood into our 40’s and beyond?
Of course, many women give up. They read statistics like the ones I’ve shared above and decide that accepting the aging process is easier than fighting it.
While I do believe that we need to be more compassionate with ourselves as we age (i.e., stop comparing your current body to the one you had in your 20’s…), I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel. If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing that you’re not either!
Stay tuned for Parts 2, 3 and 4, in which we’ll explore some exercise, nutrition and lifestyle tools for staying fit and fabulous into our 40’s (and beyond)!
Read Part 2 >> Why nutrition matters ever more now
Read Part 3 >> Exercise for hormonal imbalance
Read Part 4 >> The role of sleep
Please share your experiences with hormones and weight gain (before or) after 40.
Have a suggestion about a topic you’d like to see covered in this series? Fire away!