AS we age, weight loss just seems to get that little bit trickier.
Trying to shed the pounds at 50 is a whole different ball game to when you’re in your 20s.
It’s undeniably frustrating, however, if losing weight is on your agenda and you’re struggling to see a shift in the scales, don’t throw in the weight loss towel just yet.
Although we know that calories in vs calories out is the underlying factor in weight loss (basically, burn more calories than you consume), there are so many other elements that do come into play and staying healthy through life plays a huge part in our weight.
We asked the experts for their sage advice on losing weight and staying well, no matter your age.
In your 20s
“When you are in your 20s, you may be leading a fast-paced lifestyle, and while your metabolic rate will be the highest it ever will be in your adult life, it can be difficult to lose weight thanks to poor diet choices,” says David Wiener, Training and Nutrition Specialist at Freeletics (www.freeletics.com).
From eating the ‘wrong’ foods to skipping meals, eating on the run and drinking more alcohol, it is during your 20s that bad habits can hinder weight loss.
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In the kitchen…
During these younger years, your body is still susceptible to growth, so enjoying a wide range of vitamins and minerals, which aid and support that growth, is important.
“Minerals such as calcium will be important at this stage of your life, as well as vitamin D, which is necessary for immune and hormone support,” says David.
“The best way to get vitamin D through your diet is by eating fortified cereals, sardines, tuna, cheese and egg yolks.”
However, vitamin D is primarily sourced via sunlight.
Thanks to the UK’s cold, dark winters, the NHS recommends that everyone take a vitamin D supplement from October through to March.
As for calcium, enjoy dairy-rich foods as well as leafy green vegetables, and fortified foods, like certain plant milks, breakfast cereals and breads.
David explains that in your 20s, the body is strong and can handle intense workouts. “For optimum weight loss benefits, a combination of strength and cardiovascular training is advised.”
Mix up weight lifting with running or cycling for example. Even brisk walking is a great cardio exercise.
“Forming a healthy and consistent relationship with exercise in your 20s could be the key to a long-term relationship with exercise.
“The fitness regime you develop in your 20s helps to build the foundations for a stronger body which will naturally get weaker as you begin to age,” adds David, who also recommends incorporating balance and flexibility into your fitness regime. Try yoga and/or Pilates.
In your 30s
In your 30s, David says typically you’re at a maintenance time of your life with regards to fitness and weight loss.
“However, if you overdid it in your 20s, you could be trying to deal with the damage and the effects of your metabolism starting to slow down, which may lead to your weight creeping up.”
In the kitchen….
We lose muscle throughout every decade of life, but your 30s is likely the time when you will begin to notice, so a diet rich in lean protein is beneficial.
Enjoy foods such as chicken, turkey, tofu, fish and eggs.
“If you’re following a plant-based diet, protein sources include pumpkin seeds, peanuts, almonds, black beans, tofu, chickpeas, and grains like quinoa,” says David.
Maintaining or building muscle helps to increase the number of calories your body burns at rest, useful for weight loss.
As well as this, fertility for men and women might be a focus in the 30s.
Diet plays a huge part in this, and the foods for fertility health are also great for weight loss.
“Including folate-rich foods like spinach, broccoli, and avocado, as well as healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds is beneficial, as well as reducing your intake of saturated fats and junk food, readily found in takeaways, ready meals, and convenience foods,” explains David.
“I would advise strength or bodyweight training to increase muscle mass,” says David.
If time is something you’re struggling with, opt for HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts.
“Interval training is a great way to increase your fitness levels and calorie burn and it’s performed by alternating intense periods of physical activity with short periods of rest so that your body can recover briefly before you up the intensity again.
“Not only is this style of working out a great time saver, it’s brilliant for building endurance and boosting the metabolism.”
Check out HIIT workouts on Youtube for follow-along videos that can be done at home, with little to no equipment.
Rosie Stockley, womens fitness specialist and founder of Mamawell, adds that bone density decreases in your 30s; yet another reason to incorporate resistance training as this can help to maintain bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life.
“Rest days are important too, in order for the body to process and restore.”
Day to day…
David adds that in your 30s you may also have children, which can affect the amount of time you’re able to rest and sleep.
“Studies have found that inadequate amounts of sleep are associated with weight gain, an increased appetite, decreased metabolism and less motivation to exercise.
“When an individual does not get enough sleep, this can impact hunger levels significantly.
“When you don’t get enough sleep, the levels of ghrelin (the hormone that makes you feel hungry) rises and the levels of leptin (the hormone responsible for making you feel full) drops.”
Boost your sleep by switching off electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime and try to get into bed earlier to maximise your resting hours.
In your 40s
For women in particular, this is likely to be one of the most stressful decades thanks to the juggle of work and family life, as well as a potential change in hormones thanks to perimenopause.
In the kitchen…
Nutritionist Rob Hobson warns that while you may have been able to eat more of what you liked in your 20s and even in your 30s, this is not the case when you hit 40.
As muscle mass is declining, he recommends eating protein with every meal.
“Protein also helps with satiety which is useful when trying to lose weight.
“I don’t believe in cutting out carbs from the diet, however, it’s not a bad idea to make your meals more protein and vegetable based and reduce your carb intake a little to help with weight loss.”
Opt for wholegrain/wholemeal carbs as the fibre they contain can help to keep you feeling full between meals.
To avoid ‘naughty food’ temptation, keep all unhealthy snacks out of the house.
“Rather than stock up on crisps and chocolate for the kids, get them all involved with healthy snacking on dips, fruit and yoghurt.
“Save the other stuff for occasional treats.”
For women, hormonal changes can mean that annoying fat tends to linger more around the tummy area.
“Fluctuations in oestrogen may affect you in a number of ways but you can offset these by including foods rich in plant oestrogens.
“Enjoy plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.
“Soy foods are very rich in plant oestrogens so try including a little soy in your diet during the week.”
Hormone changes also affect bone health; eat calcium rich foods, or calcium fortified plant-based foods such as plant milks or yoghurts.
Ultimately, Rob says that in the forties, it’s best to ditch complicated diet regimes.
Instead, make sustainable, healthy changes to your eating regime.
Rosie explains that as women approach the menopause, the hormonal shifts in the body don’t just affect muscle mass, but bone density too.
Plus, it can be harder to shift unwanted weight.
“Many women may find that their usual fitness routine may be less effective in their mid-40s onward; that they aren’t seeing the results they were used to.
“Resistance training is key for women at this stage of their lives to increase muscle mass and strength.
“This will also help with weight control, general mental and physical health and confidence.”
Not sure where to begin? There are a multitude of videos online; just be sure you’re following programs by a qualified personal trainer.
It’s also important to avoid stressing the body out too much with overly strenuous exercise, as this can actually wreak havoc with hormones and cause unwanted fat to linger around longer.
This is the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve.
Day to day…
Stress can wreak havoc on weight loss goals; not only can stress impact hormones in women, getting in the way of dropping the pounds, but for both genders it can lead to excess food intake, in particular foods that provide little to no nutritional benefit for the body.
“Focus on ways to manage your stress,” says Rob.
Adopt good sleep hygiene techniques that are personal to you – take a bath before bed, ditch the phone/laptop before bed, try breathing or meditation techniques and take time to create the perfect sleep oasis by organising your room to be quiet, cool and comfortable.
In your 50s and 60s
During these years, the tactics needed to lose weight are very similar.
David explains that the natural decline in muscle mass as you age decreases your metabolic rate and makes it harder for you to lose or maintain your weight.
“This means that your weight creeps up over the years, even if your diet hasn’t massively changed.”
In the kitchen….
As well as continuing to ensure a diet that contains plenty of protein to avoid the decline of muscle, during our 50s, we become more conscious of our health overall, including our cholesterol levels.
“Eating too much food that is high in saturated fat can cause your cholesterol levels to be high.
“In the UK, the main sources of saturated fat that we indulge in include pies, sausages, butter, cheese, cakes, and biscuits.
“We should also be avoiding oils high in saturated fats such as palm oil and coconut oil,” says David.
To help lower your cholesterol levels and ensure a healthy diet for weight loss, enjoy foods rich in unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish and avocados.
Fruits and vegetables are also known to be rich in vitamins and minerals that we need to lose weight and be healthy, as well as being high in fibre.
“Certain high-fibre foods can help reduce the cholesterol in the blood by blocking the absorption of saturated food in the gut,” reveals David.
Aim for at least 30g of fibre a day.
A skin-on baked potato contains around 4g, a portion or Bran Flakes around 8g, an apple contains 3g and a banana around 3g.
Really struggling to shift the weight? Rob explains that it could be down to an underactive thyroid, so it’s worth getting checked by your GP.
In the gym…
A focus on strength training is still important to help prevent brittle bones and injuries which become more commonplace as you age.
Plus, it continues to help with muscle mass and enhances metabolic rate.
This doesn’t mean going to extremes; bodyweight exercises and exercises using light dumbbells can have a positive impact on muscles and bones.
During the 60s and beyond, you might find you have a less active lifestyle, which naturally can result in weight gain, so boosting your activity levels is one way to combat weight gain, or indeed lose weight if that is your goal.
Walking is a great low impact and low intensity exercise.
“Over time, you can begin to walk faster or further, but for beginners, regular walking is a good place to start,” says David.
“Swimming is also a brilliant cardiovascular, low impact workout which is kind to your muscles and joints.
“As you push and pull yourself through the water, your body will be fighting against resistance, building muscles and working your body as a whole, gently.”
David adds that yoga and Pilates are beneficial; helping to flex your muscles, keeping them supple and building strength gradually.
There is also research to suggest that reaction sports like table tennis are beneficial as you get older; brain stimulation is rumoured to reduce the risk of memory decline.