Special Report

18 Best Ways to Keep Weight Off If You're Over 40

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Obesity, which is linked to increased risk of many serious health conditions and diseases, has been a public health concern for years. More than 42% of middle-aged adults between 40 and 59 years are obese, the age group with the highest prevalence of obesity. And if the risk of certain conditions increases with age, being overweight and obese further increases these risks.

Losing weight before the age of 30 is, for some, as easy as cutting just a few donuts a week. With age, however, body functions the processing of food and drinks get more complicated. Metabolism slows down, and hormonal imbalances become an issue, changing the way the body breaks down fat. These are the 17 biggest myths about metabolism that just won’t go away.

Even though it is not as easy to get in shape in your 40s as it was when you were a teenager, it is not impossible, and it is a worthwhile goal. “You start to feel better — stronger and happier — in two weeks, and see changes typically in six weeks,” Andrea Metcalf, a celebrity fitness instructor, said.

The general rule is that you need to consume fewer calories than the body burns a day. Anything beyond that varies from one person to another, as current weight, physical activity, medical issues, and certain medications play a role. Here is what nutritionists want people to know about calories.

To determine at least 18 ways in which a person over 40 years of age can maintain a healthy weight, 24/7 Tempo spoke to people with years of experience in the fitness industry and examined multiple academic studies and medical reviews.

Click here to read about the best ways to keep weight off if you’re over 40.

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1. It’s very important to build muscle

The body starts to lose muscle mass after the age of 30, and inactive people can lose up to 5% of muscle mass over 10 years. Muscle plays a huge role in controlling your metabolism — you need muscle to burn calories. So if you want to lose weight, or not gain any, as you get older, you need to replace what’s lost. Studies have shown that eating more protein can help maintain or build muscle mass. As for exercise, strength training with weights or using your own body weight (squats, pushups, planks, wall sits) will do the trick, Metcalf, noted.

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2. 30 minutes a day is enough

“Many of my clients are confused, [thinking] that if a workout is not an hour, then it’s not worth it,” Metcalf said. “This cannot be farther from the truth.” Studies have shown that you can get the same benefit in half the time. A study at the University of Copenhagen showed that moderately overweight men who exercised for half an hour a day lost 8 lbs. in three months compared to the 6 lbs. lost by those who exercised for an hour. The key is the intensity of the workout.

High-intensity interval training is the way to get a significant “calorie burn in the shortest amount of time,” Natalie Sandone, fitness instructor, said. Short periods of high-intensity exercise that engage many muscles require the body use a lot of oxygen during both the exercise and rest. And increasing oxygen demands increases calories expenditure during both phases, according to the American Council on Exercise. “You can pick whatever time frames you want, but recover only as long as you need to start pushing hard again,” Sandone added.

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3. Go for a walk before and after a meal

Being physically active as often as possible is important to maintaining a healthy weight. Going for a 10-minute walk both before and after dinner is an easy way to get some exercise in, Metcalf suggested. “Before — it may help decrease appetite, and after — it helps with digestion.” A study observing pre-diabetic people found that those who went for a walk after a meal had lower blood sugar spikes. Also, walking boosts metabolism because the body needs more energy.

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4. Take care of your thyroid

The small butterfly-shaped gland controls many functions of the body, including metabolism speed. A person with an underactive thyroid could gain between 5 and 10 pounds of body weight, depending on the severity of the hormones deficiency. Thyroid hormones act on cells by increasing their activity, so if there are not enough of them, metabolic function is damaged. Causes for thyroid dysfunction vary from iodine deficiency and inflammation to cancer and even certain medications.

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5. Sleep more

Lack of sleep and weight gain often go hand in hand, according to science. Short sleep durations have been linked to higher levels of ghrelin, commonly known as the “hunger hormone” because it increases one’s appetite, and to lower levels of leptin, a hormone that signals the brain you’re full. Research has shown that sleep-deprived people also consume more calories than usual, mainly from snacks, which tend to be rich in carbs, salt, and sugar. Lack of sleep messes with fat cells’ ability to respond to insulin, which regulates energy, eventually leading to weight gain. In addition, people who sleep less are more tired and less likely to exercise, which is linked to weight gain and obesity.

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6. Consider supplements

In order for the body to function properly, and not fluctuate in weight, it needs many nutrients, which it gets from a well-balanced diet. If your body lacks certain vitamins, you may have to take supplements, but not without talking to your doctor first, according to Metcalf. Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but still have to follow certain guidelines in order to qualify as supplements, she noted. “[They] are an insurance policy, not replacement,” Metcalf added. More than half of all Americans take supplements. But beware, excess intake of certain vitamins, especially B, can actually lead to weight gain.

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7. Eat a lot of produce

“You can eat as much food without labels as you want,” Metcalf said, referring to fruits and vegetables. “If they don’t have a label, they are not processed.” They help in managing weight, which becomes more difficult with age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research has shown that adding 200 grams of vegetables (in this case carrots and spinach) to meals enhances the feelings of being full, resulting in an overall reduction of food consumption. Vegetables also have a lot of fiber, which can help with weight regulation.

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8. Eat less at night

Having a late dinner means you’re going to bed on a full stomach when your body is at its lowest burn-rate, or when your metabolism is at its slowest cycle, according to Metcalf.

A study by Northwestern University shows how the body’s circadian rhythm plays a significant role in energy regulation. Researchers fed mice a high-fat diet during normal sleeping hours, resulting in a 48% percent weight gain. In comparison, mice who were fed the exact same food but during the day only had a 20% increase over their baseline. In measures of overall caloric intake and physical activity, the two groups of mice were effectively the same.

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9. Cut out sugar as much as you can

The average American consumes the equivalent of about two and half cans of coke worth of sugar a day, about twice as much as the federal guidelines recommend for a person on a 2,000-calorie daily diet. “There is no benefit to eating sugar,” Sandone said, referring to different kinds of sugar added to processed foods and drinks, which is done to either improve the flavor or to keep the foods from spoiling fast. Sugar is the most popular added ingredient. The sweet stuff makes everything taste better, but it also makes it more dangerous. Added sugar has been linked to many chronic health conditions, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, liver problems, cognitive decline, and cancer. The biggest sources of added sugar in the American diet are soda, fruit juices, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods.

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10. Lay off the bread

“Bread is low in fiber and high in calories,” Metcalf said. “And they are the easiest thing with the least amount of benefit to cut from your diet.” Reducing white bread, but not whole-grain bread has been linked to lower gains in weight and stomach fat. White rice also is high in rapidly-digested carbs, which means you’ll be hungry again soon, and such simple-carb foods have been known to contribute to weight gain, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

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11. Focus on protein, fiber, and healthy fat

Many people look at the sodium, calories, and sugar content on ingredients labels. While paying attention to calories is a good idea, keep in mind that the serving size may not be the amount your normally eat. It can be, however, more or less the amount you should eat, depending on you age, weight and regular physical activity.

Focus more on the amount of protein and fiber in the food. Higher-protein diets have been shown to help maintain a healthy weight and preserve muscle mass, Metcalf said. Generally, guidelines recommend 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. However, age, height, weight, and physical activity levels also make a difference and there are protein calculators online.

Fiber, in addition to helping with constipation, is also known for playing a role in maintaining a healthy weight, decreasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. A high-fiber diet also lowers cholesterol and controls blood sugar.

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12. Don’t skip breakfast

Breakfast may indeed be the most important meal of the day, at least when it comes to weight loss. A study found that not eating in the morning was significantly correlated with increased waist circumference and Body Mass Index (BMI). Other research has also found that a healthy and nutritious breakfast helps with weight regulation.

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13. Get a personalized workout program

How to lose or maintain a healthy weight is a very complex question that has no simple answer. What works for some people will not work for others. “Everything should be personalized, including your exercise program,” Sandone said. Certain conditions make you more vulnerable to injuries, she noted. People have different schedules and preferences, so adjusting their exercise routine to their daily routine increases the chance of them sticking with it.

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14. Schedule your workouts

As a way to stick to a fitness routine, Sandone encourages her clients to put their workouts or their fitness classes in their calendar as an appointment to stay on track and make sure they’re fitting them in. According to Northwestern Medicine, having a routine helps lower stress (because you don’t think about when to get things done), improve sleep (because you don’t worry about being behind schedule), and lead to a better diet (because lack of time usually prevents people from grocery shopping).

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15. Ban soda from your diet

Soft drinks have been described as a “key contributor to the epidemic of overweight and obesity” in a medical review by the National Institutes of Health because they contain so much sugar. Some research has even suggested that drinking just one fewer can of soda per week can lead to weight loss. Diet sodas are not better because they contain artificial sweeteners that can encourage sugar cravings and sugar dependence. A study examining people over 65 found that those who drank diet soda gained a lot more stomach fat than people of the same age who drank other beverages.

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16. Keep alcohol calories in mind

Calories consumed from alcoholic beverages are often referred to as “empty calories.” Cutting out alcohol is often recommended to people who are trying to lose weight because alcoholic drinks contain a lot of calories — 7 calories per gram, compared to 4 in protein and carbs — and people tend to eat unhealthy foods with alcohol.

This is not to say you should not drink. Moderation — no more than one drink per day for women and two for men — is key.

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17. Avoid everything with trans fats

Trans fat, such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease, according to research. They tend to cause more weight gain around the stomach. The World Health Organization has recommended that all countries ban trans fats from being used in foods. Trans fat are considered the worst type of fat as they increase cholesterol and cause inflammation. Foods manufactured with partially hydrogenated oils in the United States will be fully banned effective Jan. 1, 2020.

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18. You have to find a way to relax

Chronic social stress as a result of poor relationships, job insecurity, and low socioeconomic status is linked to obesity. One reason is the fact that stress leads to people making unhealthy foods choices, according to a study by Michigan State University. People under stress eat more than usual, with junk food being the main part of the calorie intake.

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