Is an expanding waistline an unavoidable part of growing older, along with those smile lines and crow’s feet? Not necessarily. Research and experts in the field concur that gaining weight need not be an inevitable side effect of aging. Here is what you need to know: Gaining weight as we age is all about muscle mass. Between our mid-20s and mid-50s, we lose an average of about one half pound of muscle and add about a pound and a half of fat each year—resulting in a net gain of about one pound. The process is much more gradual in our 20s and speeds up as we get older. The key is in the loss of muscle: Because of this gradual atrophying of muscle tissue, our resting metabolic rate decreases by about 5 percent each year. In the average sedentary American, the resting metabolic rate is responsible for burning about 75 percent of the calories we consume. The more muscle you have, the more energy your body consumes to feed, maintain and repair that tissue. The good news is that physical activity is a reliable and effective tool in staving off this virtually inevitable assault on our aging bodies. How much activity? Just 20 minutes a day of strength training plus 20 minutes of aerobic exercise should do the trick.
Insulin resistance is another factor that may lead to weight gain. The modern American diet is grossly tipped toward refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour, both of which rank high on the glycemic index. When you eat such junk foods, your body overreacts: So much glucose pours into your bloodstream that your pancreas goes into overdrive and pumps out excessive insulin. In your youth, your body was functioning efficiently and you may not have noticed any symptoms resulting from this flood of blood sugar and the resultant insulin overload. Later in life the symptoms pile on, often along with pounds. The vast majority of overweight people on a high-carbohydrate diet display an extensive range of symptoms, the by-products of unstable blood-sugar levels. Over the past decade, ongoing and emerging peer-reviewed and independent research have made a compelling argument for controlled-carbohydrate nutrition and its role in preventing and controlling insulin resistance and serious medical conditions like Type 2 diabetes. The studies examine the effects of the Atkins Diet show that, on average, patients following the Atkins program had improved insulin sensitivity and glycemic control and improved cholesterol profiles, including a decrease in triglyceride levels.
After insulin, Dr. Atkins believed that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a leading offender in terms of inhibited weight loss. Menopausal women who take estrogen or an estrogen-progesterone combo have a lot of trouble shedding pounds. In fact, weight gain, water retention and skyrocketing triglyceride levels are well-known side effects of HRT.
So there you have it. As your age increases, your weight doesn’t have to if you incorporate exercise and Atkins. And if you are on HRT, talk to your doctor about some alternatives.