I am 63 and have been going regularly to the gym for 15 years. Eight years ago I stopped smoking. Although I have eaten normally since then, I have put on a stone and now have a depressing “spare tyre” where my waist used to be. Should I just accept that this is ageing catching up with me?
As we age, our bodies certainly do deteriorate. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept it as inevitable: there is ample evidence that we can slow or reverse the effects of ageing with a bit of effort and a smart approach.
Weight gain is almost always down to a combination of factors. The “spare tyre” is the most common place for the over-50s to store extra fat – and a stone in eight years represents a modest increase of 1-2lb a year, which is arguably a “normal” amount to gain just from ageing.
By middle age, our bodies lose muscle steadily. This matters a lot because muscle uses more than twice the calories of fat, so unless you are also reducing your calorie intake steadily, you will start to gain fat weight. But muscle loss can be reversed if you take up proper weight training (which is also excellent for bone health).
Two other factors may also be working against you. Another classic middle-aged phenomenon is “slowing down” – basically doing less because we feel more tired and lacking in energy. Yet research has shown that if we maintain high levels of heart fitness, we can recover more energy, which allows us to be more active and burn more calories. There is a short-term problem here: especially as an ex-smoker, you may find it hard work and tiring (!) to boost your cardio fitness, but it is worth persevering for the longer-term benefit.
The third element that may be working against you is routine. If you have been doing the same thing at the gym for 15 years, your body will have learnt to minimise the effort involved. It really needs a new challenge.
So here are some changes you might make to jolt your body into weight loss and fitness gains (depending on whether you have other medical conditions that limit your activity – always check with your GP or exercise professional).
- Start a serious weight-training programme. If you do one already, ask a qualified instructor to overhaul it completely, using different equipment and types of challenge
- Try a new aerobic (cardio) activity. Whichever machine you currently use, change to a different one (or two), and /or do some swimming, join a circuit class, boxercise, aquafit, spinning or anything else that is really going to get your heart pumping and your metabolism moving – three times a week
- Check out your “normal” eating habits. Can you knock out just a couple of things a day that you might not miss but which would save maybe 100–200 calories? Typically it might be a mid-afternoon snack, sugary drink or large glass of wine. Go for cutting fats out wherever possible, but avoid dieting – it is not the answer for you.