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Why do women gain weight as they age?

Let’s face it – no woman wants to gain weight. But as you age, it seems easier to pack pounds on and harder to take them off. And carrying that extra weight can increase the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

So why do women gain more weight as they age? And what can be done to prevent it? Avril James, an exercise physiologist at Piedmont Atlanta Fitness Center, sets the record straight.

“Everyone gains weight as they age,” James says. “It’s not just women. And there are several factors involved in that.”

1. People are less active as they age. “We definitely move a lot less than we did when we were younger,” James says. “Most people in their 30s, 40s and 50s have jobs where they are sitting for eight to 10 hours a day. That’s why we are having such a push towards things like Fitbit, Jawbones and other devices that promote taking more steps.”

2. We don’t restrict our calories based on our activity level. “People don’t think, 'I’m moving less, so let me eat less,'” James says. “They just keep eating the same way." 

3. Our metabolism slows down as we age. Women typically experience metabolic decline in their mid-to-late 30s, she explains.

"Our bodies don’t process and metabolize food the same way,” she says. “And until you are in your late 60s, early 70s, it is a little bit harder to lose weight. But you really can’t always blame it on the body clock. Metabolic decline may cause you to gain 10 to 15 pounds, but not 40 or 50 pounds. That’s lifestyle.”

Tips to reduce weight gain

Though weight loss is slightly harder as you age, it isn’t impossible. James recommends the following tips:

  • Cook healthy meals for yourself. Don’t feel guilty if your children eat a different meal than you do. “If your kids are playing baseball and running track for three or four hours, they can eat some mac and cheese,” James says. “You may not need to eat it. So we have to stop thinking that we all have to eat the exact same thing.”

  • Keep a food journal. You don’t have to write down every single meal every day, but at least take a little time every day to reflect on what you’ve eaten.

  • Practice mindful eating. Mindless eating is a big cause of the poor food choices and extreme caloric consumption,” says James.  “If you don’t know what you are putting in your mouth, how can you manage it?” 

  • Adjust your diet for your activity level. You can keep your weight consistent if you are more mindful about your discretionary calories than you were in your 20s. Instead of eating a burger and then sitting down, eat half of the burger with a salad and exercise later in the day.

  • Weight train.Weight training can actually help you keep your weight down, because muscles need more blood,” James says. “To get the blood to the muscles, your body has to burn calories. So you are going to have less fat if you have lean muscle.”

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