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Is a Slower Metabolism Really to Blame for Middle-aged Weight Gain?

I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, "Now that I'm older, my metabolism has slowed which is why I can't lose weight" or the famous "I can't eat like I used to" or "Once you turn 50, you'll gain weight and everything starts to hurt".

People often believe that weight gain and declining health are just part of the aging process.

On some levels this is true, but it’s not due to a rapidly slowing metabolism over the course of our lives. Instead, it occurs primarily because people simply move less as they age.

Let me bust those myths for you and explain a few things.

Your metabolism levels off and stays relatively consistent until around age 60. Even after age 60, metabolism declines fairly slowly, by only 0.7% per year.

Stated simply, when body mass is accounted for, metabolism remains virtually unchanged from around age 20 to age 60.

So, what’s going on here? A primary reason for the decline in metabolism is a reduction in muscle mass since muscle burns more calories than fat does. It appears that those physiological changes that take place as we pass from one decade into the next have more to do with lifestyle factors and body-composition changes than they do with a naturally slowing


Metabolism takes place on the cellular level which means that it’s impacted by countless factors, some of which are truly out of a person’s control and others that can be positively impacted through behavior change.

Variables that are out of our control include sex, genetics and age. That leaves an endless list of variables that directly impact a person’s metabolism including not only nutritional intake and physical activity, but also stress, sleep, rest, mental health and overall happiness.

Take a moment to think about the older people in your life. Some are probably relatively happy and healthy, while others are battling multiple health conditions and struggling to get through the day. Recognize the connection between lifestyle and overall well-being, including brain health, functional independence and emotional and mental health. The intention here is not to imply that physical activity and better nutrition are cure-alls, but know that behavior can have a larger impact on your quality of life than you may have previously understood.

What's the answer? It comes down to two things. Stay active and stay strong. If you do that, a lot of the other elements fall into place. Performing physical activity, particularly resistance training, can work wonders when it comes to countering the effects of aging and the reductions in muscle mass that accompany it. Stated simply, metabolism is directly linked to muscle mass, so maintaining or even building muscle as we age can help minimize or delay the deleterious effects of the aging process, which for many people is the ultimate goal.

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