You might remember a few weeks ago on Instagram I bared my soul about weight and midlife. I told y’all I was going to get Katie to explain why this seems next to impossible as we age. So today I’m making good on that promise and sharing what she wrote on weight loss after 40 & why it feels impossible. So grab your coffee or whatever you enjoy, and without further adieu….
Hi friends! I think that’s what I’m supposed to say around here.
This is Katie, Lisa’s daughter. I’m sure most of you know about me, but as a quick refresher I live in Nashville where I am in PA (Physician Assistant) school at Trevecca Nazarene University. Before that, I attended Lipscomb University for my ungraduated degree in Kinesiology (Exercise Science). Last spring when I was home for spring break (which turned into a 10-week quarantine) I shared some of the information that I was learning in my Exercise Physiology class with my mother. While I don’t think the information was exactly what she wanted to hear I think it brought her some peace of mind to understand the science behind how body composition changes with age (and differs between gender…unfortunately for us women.) Anyways, she has asked me to write this post and share some of what I learned with y’all about weight loss over 40 and why it feels impossible…and all I’m asking is that you don’t shoot the messenger…so here goes nothing…
AGING and The Effects on…
Sport and Exercise Performance
Overall, strength (weightlifting capabilities) and endurance (cardiovascular exercise capabilities) decline with age. While older athletes have strength and endurance much greater than their untrained counterparts, even very highly trained older athletes will experience a decline in performance after age 40 or 50. All of that to say—unfortunately, there will be a decline in athletic performance with age, regardless of how much a person continues to train throughout their lifespan.
Note that the terms “athlete” and “training” are simply referring to a person who works out, and their work outs.
How Height, Weight, and Body Composition affect weight loss after 40 and why it feels impossible.
As we age, we tend to lose height (due to poor posture and compression of intervertebral disks) and gain weight (due to decreased physical activity, increase caloric intake, and reduced metabolism).
We also experience osteopenia (reduction in bone mineral density—BMD) and osteoporosis (loss of bone mass). Fun, right? Yeah, like I said, hate to be the bearer of bad news… This is due to increased activity of the cells that breakdown bones. This newfound osteoporosis tends to be more severe in women due to loss of estrogen after menopause (estrogen protects the bones from being broken down by other hormones—moral of the story here is, make sure you ladies are getting enough calcium in your diet to keep those bones strong!)
As we age, our fat location shifts from the periphery (the outer portion of our body/limbs) to a more central location (around the stomach), and this type of fat increases the risk for CVD (cardiovascular disease) and metabolic diseases (insulin resistance, diabetes)
Fat free mass (FFM—muscle and bone) decreases in both men and women beginning at age 40 due to decreased physical activity, decreased rate of protein synthesis (due to decreased hormones needed to synthesize protein, aka muscle), and even an increased rate of muscle breakdown. While muscle mass decreases and fat mass increases, you may never notice much of a change in weight because these numbers are offsetting each other. The good news is, you may not be gaining weight, however the bad news is that you may be trading some of your muscle for fat. Luckily, increasing your FFM (gaining muscle) will increase your metabolic rate and help to promote weight loss.
GENDER and The Effects on…
Body Size and Composition
As early as adolescence, females begin to accumulate more fat mass and boys begin to accumulate more fat free mass (so things just come more easily to them, huh? Cool.) These differences are due to hormones (surprise, surprise)—testosterone is an anabolic hormone, which means muscle building, and we all know that men have more testosterone than women. Not only does testosterone increase protein/muscle synthesis, but it also increases bone formation (another reason men are bigger) and it stimulates EPO (erythropoietin—the hormone that plays a big role in making red blood cells, which then carry oxygen to the body, explaining why men tend to also be stronger in the cardiovascular area of performance.)
Overall, women are 40-60% weaker in upper body strength, but only 25-30% weaker in lower body strength than men. In other words, women are weaker than men overall but women have more of their muscle mass in the lower body when compared to men.
At any given workload, a woman will have a higher heart rate than men and a lower stroke volume than men (the amount of blood the heart pumps out with each beat). This lower stroke volume is due to a woman’s smaller size and smaller blood volume. Women also breath more rapidly at any given workload, most likely because the workload will be closer to their maximum workload than it is for men.
Metabolism (I think this is the one you’ve all been waiting for…) Weight loss over 40 & why it feels impossible
VO2max is a measurement of how much oxygen a person can use during an intense exercise. We use this number as a means of measuring and comparing cardiovascular endurance. As a general rule, a woman’s VO2max is only 70-75% that of a man’s, meaning that no matter how hard the average women trains, she will most likely only be able to achieve 70-75% of the amount of cardiovascular endurance as her male counterpart. This limitation in O2max is due to a smaller heart, lower blood volume, decreased hemoglobin (the part of red blood cells that carry oxygen), and lower cardiac output (the amount of blood that passes through any one point in the body in one minute). All these things added together simply add up to the fact that, regardless of training level, men will outperform women.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is—it is what it is. As we age, our body composition and fitness capabilities decline, and as women, our capabilities were never as great as men in the first place. It’s the unfortunate truth, but something we can’t do much about. However, while some of the body composition changes that come with aging are inevitable, you can take preventative measures to keep your body healthy and working optimally for a longer, pain free life. Coming from an exercise science geek, my biggest recommendation (and you can ask either of my parents how much I preach this to them) is to keep up your physical fitness levels as much as you can. Everyone knows the importance of cardiovascular health in preventing various diseases, but too frequently, strength training is overlooked by the general population. If our bones are getting weaker as we age, don’t we need something to support them to prevent from becoming a classic case of “she broke her hip”? Yes! Muscle! Strong muscles protect bone. As previously mentioned, women are more at risk for bone fractures due to the decreased estrogen causing bones to be more susceptible to breakage. Not only is muscle important for injury prevention, but it is crucial to making our activities of daily living (ADLs) easier. Being able to take care of yourself as you age, playing with your grandkids, and doing many of the things you may enjoy doing now may become much more difficult than you might anticipate as you age. But the very best way to prevent this is to focus on strength training with age. If that isn’t enough, muscle burns about 2.5x the number of calories as fat. Whoa! Have I convinced you to start strength training yet? Prevent injury…improved ADLs…more calories burned… However, don’t overlook cardiovascular exercises, as these are obviously important to keep up endurance for daily activity as well. I hope I haven’t spoiled your day by revealing these unfortunate truths, but hopefully some of this information will give you peace of mind if you find you are often frustrated with the changes you may see in your body with age.
Now it’s me again (Lisa). I hope this helps to shed some light on weight loss after 40 & why it feels impossible. What it boils down to, is there are so many factors out of our control. The best thing we can do is stay active, eat as healthy as possible while still enjoying life, and learn to accept ourselves. We are more than what we see in the mirror.
I have several Pinterest boards with healthy tips, exercises, and low carb recipes.