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.
You can also read about my fitness journey here and here.
Thank you Katie for sharing!!
Hope it shed some light on this subject. XO
This is so helpful…depressing but helpful. I have started lifting weights consistently for the first time after I noticed a definite decrease in my arm strength over the past few years. And of course walking for cardio! Have a wonderful week.
I know, right?! I’m trying to do more weights. She just joined the Y and wants me to do it too when I start spending more time in Nashville. XO
This was great! Super informative and actually an encouragement! It’s hard to fix what’s broken if you don’t understand it and Katie did a fantastic job of explaining what’s going on and how to work with it! 🙂 She’s convinced me to pull out those weights and get to it! Thanks so much to you both for sharing. ?
I’m so happy it was helpful Tracey! Yes, I’ve got to get more serious about weight training. She’s on me all the time to do that…and her dad. LOL XOXO
Thank you so much for your post! Both my gynecologist and my internist have said that I should concentrate on strength training more than cardio. I am doing Pilates and Yoga along with some walking and HIIT workouts (in shorter spurts than when I was younger). I’ve SLOWLY lost 15 pounds so that is something! Both my sisters have osteoporosis and their doctors told them to walk or swim every day, and to include strength training. I’m hoping to get ahead of the game by working out and taking a daily calcium supplement.
That’s AWESOME! Congratulations!!! I’ve got to get more serious about weights too. She joined the Y yesterday wants me to also when I start living there…which I’m about to start doing part time. YAY!!! XOXO
Thank you Katie for taking the time to share this with us. It is much appreciated and very enlightening.
Thanks for reading Peggy! I’ll pass along your thanks. XO
Katie thank you for all the time and effort you put into this post to inform us as to the whys. Yep..everything shifted during menopause and some days it is so hard to accept what I see in the mirror. And I have always been a walker so it is so hard to tell myself that doing a workout with weights is good for me as I think in my head I HAVE to do cardio to try and loose my mid section. Lisa, I have to take your advice and learn to accept myself but sometimes that’s easier said than done but I’m a work in progress.
Sandy, it sounds like we are telling ourselves the same thing…and wearing a watch that tracks steps makes it hard to give up cardio for weights because it’s like you don’t get “credit”. I’m a work in progress too…and I have a feeling it will be that way til’ the day I die. LOL XOXO
Exactly Lisa…I wear an apple watch so I continually check to see where I’m at with my steps so I know I have to change and not make it about steps anymore and get more weights in to keep my bones strong but it’s hard to change. I’ve read so many articles on how older women have to change the way they think and it’s not about the quantity of exercise we do but the quality for the stage of life we are in.
Myrtle (Gram) Echols says
Way to go Katie! I’m bursting with pride, thinking, that’s my grandchild. Wow! This is a great article and not just because I have “dibs” on you. Grandad and I are both so proud of you and love you so much.
She really did do such a good job and making it easy enough to understand. I’ll pass on the message. LOVE YOU!!!
Laura Horton says
Remind Katie about this article when she turns 40! Ha!
LOL!!! For real!
Just got to read this today! Well done Katie lots of good information! Our daughter graduated with her bachelor of science in kinesiology degree quite a few years ago and she helps to make sure we are staying active and healthy:) I added weights and resistance bands over the last few years and definitely saw a difference( I always seemed to find the cardio part easy?♀️)It sure makes a difference working everything!
Wow, such a wonderfully clear explanation! Way to go, Katie!! (Lisa, you must be so proud!) Thanks for sharing both the good and the bad news! Lol!
Thanks Darlene! She did a great job and I’m very proud!! XO
Laura Bambrick says
This is such great information! I used to be terrible about strength training but have been really trying ot be consistent with it lately to help prevent some of this!
It’s good to get in the habit early. You’re in such good shape. XO
Carrie @ Curly Crafty Mom says
I read this awhile ago and never commented on it, because I was reading it on my phone in the car and didn’t have a chance to comment. Your daughter is super smart and she is going to be such a blessing to all of those she helps when she starts her career! She def. has a down to earth way of explaining everything in realistic terms! I used to just run and my doctor told me I really need to do weights AND core and since I’ve done that I feel so much stronger… and, I work out my entire body. It does mean I have to work out more, but I think being preventative is so much better than the alternative! I am 43 (will be 44 this summer), so reading about menopause has been interesting to me and also a little scary! I am trying to read more about it, so I am not so freaked out when it does start happening!! I am not a good person with change! Lol!