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LOSING WEIGHT OVER 40 is not easy. And that’s putting it gently.
“If you’re over 40, you may have observed that weight gain and loss are more difficult than they used to be,” says cardiologist Sanul Corrielus, M.D., a Philadelphia private practice owner in affiliation with Temple University Hospital. “Changes in your level of activity, eating habits, hormone levels, and the way your body stores fat can all have an impact.”
Unfortunately, your muscle mass goes down as you age—as much a 3 to 5 percent per decade after 30, says Barbara Kovalenko, R.D. and nutrition consultant at Lasta.
With a decrease in muscle mass comes a decrease in metabolism. When your metabolism slows down, your calorie burn decreases with it, making it tough for men to maintain a caloric deficit long enough to loose some of that stubborn fat.
“For this reason, it can be challenging to lose weight after the age of 40 years old, mainly if weight training (which helps to offset the decrease in muscle mass) is not a regular part of an individual’s routine,” says Mary Wirtz, R.D., a board-certified sports dietitian.
It’s true that it’s natural to lose muscle mass over time, which can predispose you to weight gain (more on losing muscle later). But that’s far from the only reason you might be finding yourself with a few more pounds now than you had before.
When it comes to weight gain in your 40s, “it’s multifactorial,” says Fatima Stanford, M.D., MPH, obesity medicine physician scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Numerous factors can sneak up on you and help you gain or hold onto weight, including your lifestyle, your food, your biology, and your sleep habits.
The good news in that is that there are also numerous ways to tackle getting your weight to where you want it—you don’t have to force yourself into one approach, and you get to choose what works for you.
Guys often wonder whether a dip in testosterone is at the root of their weight gain, says Stanford. “When men develop overweight and obesity, they tend to have a drop in testosterone that leads to a drop in energy and more retention of adipose tissue,” she says.
The excess adipose tissue drives testosterone down. But taking testosterone isn’t usually the answer. “That’s not the underlying problem. Once we normalize the weight, the testosterone normalizes,” she explains.
Instead of looking to testosterone first, try these other, more effective strategies to hack your biology and lifestyle and lose weight after 40.
1. Don’t Give Into the Popularity Contests
“There are many eating patterns that can be used to lose weight,” says William Samuel Yancy, M.D., director of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center and associate professor of medicine at Duke University.
Many have evidence behind them, whether that’s keto, Paleo, Mediterranean, vegan, or anything else. Interestingly, there’s not as much research on what works for men as there is on women, but “for men, sometimes it’s as simple as shortening the time in which you are eating to an 8- to 10-hour window a day,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D.N., consultant for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine for the Cleveland Clinic. Even something as straightforward as not eating after 6 PM can make a big difference—one of her male clients who lost 150 pounds found that to be especially helpful, she says.
If you prefer a specific plan with specific rules, make sure it goes with your lifestyle, which, for most guys, gets increasingly complicated in your 40s with more responsibilities at work, with your family, and maybe even with your aging parents. A vegan diet can be hard to do in a healthy way if you live a grab-and-go existence. Meal prep is going to be a challenge if you’re never home long enough to cook. Don’t just pick what worked for a friend; pick what’s likely to work with your busy, over-40 lifestyle.
Stanford is emphatic that you need to be sure that the eating style you choose to lose weight after 40 is something you can do for the rest of your life. “If it’s not something you can sustain for the next 20 or 50 years, then why are you doing this at all?”
For a sustainable plan, “I don’t like to hyper-focus on calories. It’s important to have a high-quality diet of lean protein, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables,” Stanford says. “Processed foods lead to weight gain, so the less processed the food you eat, the better.”
And the more satisfied you could end up being. Her example: A nice meal of salmon plus some grains and a vegetable and a salad can give you a lot more volume than a Shake Shack stop would, and would give you more of a sense of being full afterward. When it comes to the high-quality diet she advocates, “nothing is bizarre—we know that lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are constant no matter how the guidelines for healthy eating have changed over the years,” she says.
2. Prioritize Strength
Starting in your 30s, you can lose three to five percent of your muscle mass each decade if you don’t stay active. Note the last part of that point: “If you don’t stay active.” As you get older, “there’s a lot of competition for your time and energy,” says Dr. Yancy. For some men, that can push exercise out of the picture. But it doesn’t take heroic efforts to put it back into your life.
You can maintain that muscle or regain it with a regular strength routine—meaning you do moves that hit the major muscles of the body at least twice a week. A great place to start: This 3-Week Full-Body Workout Plan for Men Over 40.
Why that’s so important: “The more muscle we have, the more calories we burn,” Kirkpatrick says. Even if it doesn’t actually help you lose weight, it can help keep you from gaining it—along with all the other good things it does for your body, mind, and life. Lots of over-40 guys like HIIT, since its compressed timeframe ends up having a low impact on your schedule.
Keep this mantra in mind when strength training over 40. It’s from Bryan Krahn, author of the Men’s Health Training Guide, Muscle After 40, and as he puts it: “It makes much more sense to train more frequently, but to inflict less damage on your muscles and joints in those workouts. The workouts we do are only as good as our ability to recover from them. No recovery, no benefit.”
That doesn’t mean you should only strength train; aerobic activity is helpful, too. But supplementing your spin/run/row/elliptical routine with strength training is essential.
On days you’re having trouble finding the inspiration to get out there and move, look at what even much older guys can do. Check out Rudy Kadlub, for instance, who set four world powerlifting records at age 71. Or get motivated by Simeon Gipson, the 75-year-old cyclist who beat diabetes through cycling and now pedals through a 300-mile trip every year.
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3. Find A Buddy
A problem shared is a problem halved, right?
This adage may hold literal truth on the weight loss front.
“According to the Mayo Clinic, having a supportive environment of friends or family members is imperative for long-term weight loss success. A supportive environment most often increases accountability and helps maintain long-term motivation,” said Wirtz.
For a so-called “accountability buddy,” Wirtz recommends anyone from a coworker or a neighbor to a family member or close friend. Social media support groups are options too. Local fitness studios and online message boards can be great places to find like-minded people seeking to have someone keep tabs on them as they try to lose weight.
Kovalenko says that accountability is a powerful motivator when it comes to weight loss. “According to a study, participants who had a weight loss partner lost significantly more weight than those who tried to lose weight on their own.”
If that’s not motivation to text a friend or chat up someone after a workout class, we don’t know what is. Sometimes, the best course of action is making your weight loss buddy your workout partner. After all, prioritizing exercise (and as we now know, strength training) is essential.
“Many people in their 40s don’t have a lot of free time to exercise between desk jobs, commuting, and family obligations. But it’s crucial to put in at least 2 ½ hours a week of moderate physical exercise, such as brisk walking or light yard work, for your weight and general health,” Corrielus says. “Schedule these times on your schedule and give them top priority.”
When you schedule such workouts with a friend or sign up for the same yoga classes as other people who are ‘regulars’ at your local gym, it will incentivize you to stick to your workout goals.
4. Stress Less
Easier said than accomplished, we know.
Still, it bears repeating—chronic stress is linked to obesity and being overweight. Put more plainly, lowering stress in your life can also aid with weight loss, says Kovalenko.
“Research has shown that chronic stress can make it more difficult to lose weight and can contribute to weight gain. Stress can lead to the release of cortisol, a hormone that can increase appetite and cause the body to store fat,” she says.
Studies have suggested that hormonal factors, including increased cortisol levels related to psychosocial stress, may contribute to metabolic syndrome and obesity, says Wirtz.
The good news? You can work conscientiously and consistently—perhaps in tandem with a licensed therapist and/or psychiatrist—to reduce your anxiety levels.
“Fortunately, various stress reduction techniques can reduce cortisol levels and even modestly improve other factors such as blood pressure. Diaphragmatic breathing (deep breathing) exercises can be beneficial as a stress reduction technique,” says Wirtz. “Other relaxation techniques include massage, meditation, yoga, music and art therapy, journaling, and exercise, among many others.”
Along with those techniques, Kovalenko also shared that research has shown that massage therapy may reduce cortisol levels and improve weight loss efforts. Use that as an excuse to treat yourself.
5. Talk with a Doctor
Losing or gaining weight can always be a challenge, regardless of your age. But because people over 40 may encounter more trouble than younger counterparts, why not enlist the help of professionals?
Many chronic health conditions, including diabetes, hypothyroidism, and mental health conditions, can make losing weight difficult, says Wirtz. “It is essential to discuss any barriers to losing weight with a medical care provider.”
Beyond seeing the number move south on the scale, “it’s important to talk to a doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions,” says Kovalenko. Working with a healthcare provider to come up with a weight loss plan is always an option.
6. Check your meds
Sometimes the medicines you’re taking for other issues, such as high blood pressure and antidepressant meds, can increase your weight or keep you from losing it, says Dr. Stanford. Ask your doctor if your weight concerns could be side effects of the prescriptions you’re getting filled. Often, there are other formulations that can be effective but wouldn’t have those side effects for you.
Sleeping enough is important, and if your lifestyle is making you cheat sleep, then think about what you can do to get enough.
Sometimes, however, biology is keeping you from enough shuteye, and it’s imperative to solve that. “Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can lead to additional weight gain,” says Dr. Stanford.
If you are making all the right efforts to get restorative sleep and still don’t feel restored, consider seeing a sleep doctor, who can drill down on the problem and help you find some solutions.
8. Be Sober Curious
“Another factor I see that can help men is to take a look at drinking habits,” Kirkpatrick says. “Men that I counsel who cut alcohol or significantly cut back tend to lose weight more easily.”
Now that the whole sober curious moment is making not drinking trendy, it’s easier to find alcohol-free options. There’s a whole non-alcoholic beer renaissance these days, in fact (read all about it and get the best non-alcoholic beer recommendations here). And there are even non-alcoholic spirits, like New London Light, with a flavor that stands in well for gin (and only 3 calories per serving), or Seedlip, a distilled non-alcoholic product that comes in different flavor profiles. (To lose weight, of course, you’re going to want to watch your mixers, but that’s pretty easy.)
Less alcohol can mean fewer late-night bowls of ramen or plates of double cheeseburgers on the way home from happy hour. Today, it’s also easier than ever to maintain a social life when you’re not over-drinking, since there’s the new perception that you’re not saying no to a beer or five; you’re part of a “movement.”
Marty Munson, currently the health director of Men’s Health, has been a health editor at properties including Marie Claire, Prevention, Shape and RealAge. She’s also certified as a swim and triathlon coach.
Perri is a New York City-born and -based writer; she holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Columbia University and is also a culinary school graduate of the plant-based Natural Gourmet Institute, which is now the Natural Gourmet Center at the Institute of Culinary Education. Her work has appeared in the New York Post, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, Oprah Daily, Insider.com, Architectural Digest, Southern Living, and more. She’s probably seen Dave Matthews Band in your hometown, and she’ll never turn down a bloody mary. Learn more at VeganWhenSober.com.