As we grow older we tend to gain weight, usually around the middle. Whatever you call it - belly fat, spare tyre or muffin top, it's a frustration for thousands of women as they enter middle age. But losing your waist isn't inevitable and there is plenty you can do to prevent or reverse it.
But let's start by taking a step back to understand why the middle age spread is so common. I'm a strong believer that if you understand the "why", you're in a much better position to figure out the "how", meaning when you know what causes middle age spread, you know what needs to be done in order to address it.
Weight gain is a combination of lifestyle, physical changes and genetics. Some people are blessed with genes that make it less likely they will gain much weight. However, even these fortunate individuals can succumb to belly fat if they eat more calories than they burn.
We're less active
As we get older most of us move less. The sedentary nature of modern life means that many of us do nothing more energetic than walk from the house to the car, car to shops/office and then up the stairs to bed.
Our lives seem to be becoming increasingly more stressful. As we reach middle age many of us are caring for teenage children and older parents while holding down busy jobs, managing the household etc. Stress has a huge impact on your body, especially when it comes to storing fat around the middle. This article explains in more details why stress makes you store fat around the middle: Why stress makes you store fat around the middle.
We lose muscle
We naturally start to lose muscle as we get older. After the age of 40, women can lose approximately 225g (8oz) of muscle per year. Add that up over ten years between the ages of 40 and 50, and most women will have lost 2.25kg (5lb) of muscle.
And because muscle is metabolically active, when we lose muscle mass we burn less calories.
Our metabolism slows down
As we get older, lose muscle mass and move less, our metabolism slows down. Yet most of us still eat the same amount, or possibly even more, than we did 20 years ago. At age 48 I need 158 calories less than I did 20 years ago just to maintain my weight.
Peri-menopause (the years leading up to menopause) and menopause is a time when we experience some big hormonal shifts. The biggest change is your ovaries produce less oestrogen and progesterone and whilst these two hormones don't have a big direct effect on your weight, their indirect impact is significant:
So now we understand the why, let's talk about the how.
A healthy diet
Take a careful look at your diet and see if you can make some small changes to improve it. Can you add more vegetables? Are you eating good quality protein with most meals? Could you reduce the amount of sugar/alcohol/caffeine you consume?
My 7-Day Kickstart plan is the perfect place to start - it's completely free, click on this link to sign up.
Not only is this important to help protect our bones from osteoporosis, but when you have more muscle mass you'll use more energy (calories) throughout the day, even when resting.
Increase your NEAT
NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis - it's the movement you do aside from exercise. All that extra movement really adds up so walk or cycle to the local shops, take the stairs rather than the lift or escalator, park further away from the office/supermarket, get off the bus one stop further away from your destination.
Manage your stress
We all have stress in our lives, it's how you manage it that's important. Maybe you can reduce your stress levels by saying no more often or delegating some of your 'to do' list, but start to put yourself first. There are lots of things you can do, for example:
Whilst the aging process certainly makes staying slim more challenging, there is a lot we can do to stay healthy and prevent or get rid of the middle age spread.