Whether you’re struggling with a slowing metabolism, more sedentary behavior, or you’ve let your eating habits slip, once you hit the age of 50, weight loss can become challenging. Combine those factors with an injury or medical problems, and hitting the gym to maintain your waistline might feel downright impossible.
Research shows that weight loss after 50 is still possible with healthy eating and regular exercise, among other smart choices. Our experts share six ways to lose weight after 50 so that you can feel as good as you look.
1. Eat out less.
“As we age, we are at higher risk for weight gain, due to our metabolism decreasing and hormones changing,” explains Kirsten David, a dietitian with EduPlated. “There are also many mental and social barriers over [the age of] 50 that can prevent us from losing weight, as well. Start making healthy changes now and form new healthy habits to prevent weight gain from happening.”
David says that many people over the age of 50 go out to eat more frequently because there’s less of a need to cook due to children being grown and out of the house. However, this leads to higher consumption of processed foods and high-fat foods, so it’s much better to cook and eat at home whenever possible. Tip: Rely on meal planning as a tool each week will help you stay on track with your diet.
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2. Add whole foods, protein, fiber, and “good” fat to your diet, especially in the morning.
According to Health and Wellness Coach Mike Ferreri, food is about 85 percent of the battle when it comes to weight loss—so getting your intake just right matters quite a bit.
“Consuming a well-balanced diet and eating regularly throughout the day will help with keeping your metabolism high and aid in weight loss,” says David. “Eating more whole foods, such as high fiber vegetables and fruit, and limiting processed foods will help your body slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, which decreases the risk of accumulating extra fat. Remember, you can’t eat like you are 20-years-old anymore! So, get rid of the junk food in your pantry and make small changes to add more whole foods to your diet. The fewer ingredients a food contains, the better it is for your health and weight.”
All About Breakfast
You’ll want to make sure that you’re getting enough protein, adds Dr. Keith Ayoob, an associate clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He says most people after the age of 50 do typically eat a decent amount of protein, but not always early in the day when they most need it. The same is true for calcium and vitamin D, so he recommends loading up with a balanced breakfast each day and enjoying items like Greek yogurt and milk to make up the difference. Some research even indicates that a high-protein breakfast can directly impact weight management or weight loss, too.
“Eat a properly combined breakfast with protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats,” says Miriam Amselem, a Florida-based 52-year-old holistic nutritionist and yoga teacher. “Breakfast sets the tone for the rest of the day and helps with metabolism. An example of a healthy breakfast is one cup of 0 percent fat yogurt with half a cup of blueberries and a dash of honey or an egg white omelet with half a small avocado and a slice of multigrain bread.”
Additionally, Certified Health Coach John Vercelletto pushes back on the low-fat fad, popular with individuals past the age of 50. He says that our bodies need healthy dietary fat, like avocados, olive oil, and butter, but low-fat products often increase sugar—which, by now, most of us realize isn’t good for our health. Dr. Ayoob seconds this mindset, and simply suggests watching portion sizes when it comes to good fats like avocados or nuts.
3. Strength train, as part of a regular exercise routine.
“As a now 55-year-old, I do hit the gym a little differently than the 25-year-olds,” laughs Ferreri. “When I was younger, I was much more flexible, had more lean muscle mass, and my heart and lung health was typically stronger. I could walk into the gym and start to throw the weights around, or get on the treadmill, crank it up, and immediately start to run at an 8.0 pace.” Now, he does things a little differently. He takes approximately 20 minutes to warm up and stretch prior to starting his weight training routine to try to eliminate or reduce injury.
Strength training not only increases your muscle strength, but also improves your mobility.
Ferreri also favors strength training over cardio for the 50+ crowd, especially those looking to slim down in a sustainable way. “Although cardio is super important for heart and lung health, it is not a great way to lose weight and keep it off,” he says. “When you stop doing large amounts of cardio, the weight will quickly return. Having cardio as part of your overall fitness routine is a must; however, strength training should be the first factor when you hit the gym. Strength training not only increases your muscle strength, but it will help to improve your mobility and it is also the only thing (along with proper nutrients) known to increase bone density.”
However, do understand that it may seem harder to gain muscle as you age, says Dr. David Greuner of NYC Surgical Associates, due to hormone changes, age-related illness, and even social factors like a busy schedule. In his opinion, cardio will burn off fat, but to build sturdy muscles, choose heavy weights with a small number of reps or lighter weights with more reps. Also, remember diet and exercise go hand-in-hand for overall health and strength, especially as the years tick by.
“Weight-bearing exercises help with building and maintaining muscle mass, as well as building bone strength and decreasing your risk for osteoporosis,” says David. “Many people over [the age of] 50 will stop exercising regularly, due to pain in their joints or back or injury, but don’t give up! Find a professional that can help get you back on track, and aim to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity [in] a week to help maintain your muscle mass and a healthy weight.”
Amselem tells her clients to strive for a combination of aerobic exercises such as walking, swimming, or dancing for 45 minutes each day with strength training exercises three times a week. She also likes yoga (for balance), stretching, and relaxation. Dr. Ayoob concurs and wishes more people would prioritize daily activity—like low-impact cardio workouts on the stair climber or elliptical machines—in order to send their bodies a message to keep moving. (Of course, be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.)
4. Don’t skip meals.
What’s one poor decision that David sees people over the age of 50 making all the time? Skipping meals, most likely because of a decreased metabolism. “As we age, our hormones change,” she says. “Estrogen and testosterone gradually decrease over time, which leads to fat accumulation due to the body not processing sugar, as well. We also lose more muscle mass as we age, causing our resting metabolic rate to decrease. However, skipping meals can cause you to be deficient in important key nutrients needed as we age, such as overall calories and protein. Eating regularly throughout the day and getting enough calories/protein will help with higher energy levels and maintain muscle mass, which means a higher metabolism.”
But, Vercelletto argues that there’s no rule that says you “must” eat three meals a day, either. He’s also not a fan of snacking since it encourages people to graze on food all day long. Instead, he says it’s okay to eat less than three meals a day, but be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of fluids, like water, coffee, or no-sugar-added tea.
5. Make sure that you get enough sleep.
“One of the biggest complaints of those over [the age of] 50 is lack of sleep,” notes Amselem. “Sleep is key to healthy weight since two hormones, leptin and ghrelin, are released during sleep and they play a major role in appetite regulation. Lack of sleep disrupts the process and causes metabolic dysfunction in which the body confuses fatigue [with] hunger—not a good thing! My recommendation is to get seven to eight hours of sleep and, if needed, take a low dosage of melatonin for help.”
6. Let go of old “rules” about weight loss and cultivate a mindset of wellness.
“Age does impact weight loss for both women and men, and that’s because metabolism slows down, hormone levels decline, plus there is a loss of muscle mass,” says Amselem. “But that doesn’t mean that losing weight over age [the age of] 50 is mission impossible. Diet and exercise are key; however, the common mistake I see is that people eat and work out in the same exact way [that] they [did] when they were younger and wonder why they don’t see results. Those over [the age of] 50 cannot eat and train in the same way they did when they were 30. You have to shift to get results.”
Luckily, diet and exercise changes are generally within your control, says Dr. Ayoob. Make gradual adjustments to promote balanced eating, rather than falling prey to fad diets, and remind yourself of the benefits of exercise for your heart, digestive tract, and mental health, in addition to weight management.
“Create a mindset of wellness,” advises Vercelletto. “Being over [the age of] 50 is not a death sentence—in fact, many of us now have more time to take care of ourselves. Having a healthy weight, eating properly, not smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption is all super important. We are not getting any younger, but we ain’t dead yet.”
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