a) Slowing metabolism
c) Reduced physical activity
d) Reduced testosterone and estrogens
e) All of the above
f) Some of the above
f) Some of the above
What you should know:
Many adults attribute weight gain in the late 40’s and early 50’s to “slower metabolism,” but relatively recent research has found that metabolism is generally constant from age 20 to age 60 (see eSavvyHealth News Brief Your Waistline Isn’t Growing Because Your Metabolism Is Slowing).
There is a special case, however: if you go on a crash calorie reduction diet in that age range—or, for that matter, any age range–your metabolism can be permanently slowed down as a result. But that’s another story.
As to menopause, the average weight gain of women during menopause is just 5 to 10 pounds. This may not be desirable, but this weight gain is not particularly unhealthy in and of itself—it’s the distribution of fat that is of greater concern, because after menopause there is a shift in where fat goes in the female body. Instead of tending to accumulate as subcutaneous fat in the breasts, hips, and thighs, it begins to accumulate as visceral fat, in the belly. And visceral fat seems to be just as dangerous for women as it is for men. Prior to menopause, women generally enjoy lower risk of heart disease and diabetes than men, but from menopause on women start to catch up to men in terms of risk. By the early 70s the incidence of diabetes is higher in women, and the rate of heart attacks has increased from 40% of the rate for males in the 45 to 54 age range to almost 70% of the rate for males in the 75 to 84 age range.
As to reducing physical activity—that’s just the other side of the coin of the benefits of increasing physical activity, and weight gain can definitely be a result.
Regarding sex hormones—in men, testosterone drops at a fairly constant rate starting at age 35, in women the drop in estrogen occurs over a much shorter time span. In both cases the lower levels of sex hormones make it a harder to build muscle. The combined effect of that and reduced physical activity undoubtedly contributes to the loss in muscle tissue often experienced during this period. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, if you have less muscle but don’t consume less calories you will inevitably increase fat. The good news is that “harder to build muscle” is not the same as “impossible to build muscle”; it just requires a more determined and consistent effort, with a more gradual approach so as to avoid injury.
People tend to think of getting older as a necessary evil, but maturity can also bring many benefits. If you consider the process of aging to be something you are deliberately managing, rather than something that’s happening to you, you’re more likely to engage in actions and behaviors that improve your prospects of a longer, healthier, and more active life.