As you get older, you may find that it’s harder to control your weight. The same diet and exercise routine from your 20s and 30s just doesn’t have the same impact anymore. It makes you wonder – are all women destined to gain weight as they get older?
As women age, metabolism slows down, and the body needs fewer calories. Weight control might seem harder because it is harder. But that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. There are many ways to stay healthy and fit as you age – though they may require some new tactics.
We’ve gathered some advice from Providence caregivers about how metabolism changes over time for women, why it changes, and what you can do in response to this change.
Metabolism is the process of converting food into calories, which our bodies then burn for fuel. Metabolic rate is how many calories our bodies burn in a typical day.
If we burn more calories through activity than we take in, we lose weight over time. If we take in more calories than we burn, we gain weight over time.
Our bodies burn calories in different ways:
Your resting metabolism provides the energy you need to pump blood, breathe air in and out, control temperature, and use your brain.
Resting metabolism burns the most calories each day and is what often slows down as we age.
Over time, studies have shown that metabolic rate (how fast we burn calories) starts to slow down by 2 to 3 percent each decade, beginning in our 20s. It becomes more noticeable between ages 40 and 60. And while the slow down happens for both men and women, it often affects women more since they have a slower metabolism from the start.
There are many natural changes that happen with age that can slow down a woman’s metabolism:
Although many changes to metabolism come from natural forces, some changes happen because of another health condition.
The thyroid is an endocrine gland shaped like a butterfly that’s located in the front of your neck. It makes thyroid hormones, which impact functions in the body such as metabolism. Women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to have a thyroid disorder , especially after pregnancy or menopause.
There are different thyroid conditions. For example, hypothyroidism is when the body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones. Hyperthyroidism is when the body makes too much thyroid hormone. Either condition can impact your metabolism. Your doctor can check your thyroid levels with a simple blood test.
Did you know? January is thyroid awareness month. Learn more about how important this small but mighty gland is for your overall health.
Prescription medications can have different side effects. Some medications stimulate your appetite, while others reduce it. Changes in medications might even alter your sense of taste and smell or your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. If you have to take medication long-term, it may affect your metabolism.
Knowing about how metabolism changes with age makes many women wonder what they can do in response.
Starting a muscle-building program may seem strange when you’re older, but it can help.
“Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat, so it burns more calories, even when we’re resting,” says Michelle Guitteau, M.D.
A body with more lean, strong muscle not only helps you look fit, but it also helps with things like balance and mobility as you get older.
“Challenge your muscles regularly,” recommends Dr. Guitteau. “Set aside 20 minutes, twice a week for muscle-building workouts, such as weight training or pushups. And try to eat protein throughout the day, which helps build muscle.”
People tend to be less active as they get older. Aim to sit less and move more.
“Usually, the less active you are, the slower your metabolism will be,” says Dr. Guitteau.
Activity doesn’t have to be intense exercise. You could ride your bike, stand while you make phone calls, or walk around the house or garden.
As women get older, their bodies often need fewer calories. This doesn’t mean you have to eat less food, but it helps if you change the foods you eat .
“It’s helpful to eat more fruits and vegetables – which are lower in calories,” advises Valerie Edwards, clinical dietitian at Providence. “And to have smaller portions of meat, pasta, bread and starches on your plate. Adding more veggies still gives you the same volume of food but with fewer calories.”
Not getting enough sleep can have a negative effect on your metabolism. A lack of sleep can also lead to other health issues. It’s important that you find ways to get the rest you need .
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for many reasons. But it’s also important to accept that women’s bodies change with age.
There are plenty of lifestyle changes that can make a difference in response to a slower metabolism. But for women, it’s not reasonable to expect that your body will stay the same as it was in your 20s.
Decide for yourself: What weight can I maintain well, with a reasonable amount of effort? Congratulate yourself for every success on the way to that goal – even if it only gets you part of the way there – and make peace with the rest.
If you need help managing your changing metabolism, our experts at Providence can help with nutritional counseling . If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory . You can also access a full range of healthcare services through Providence Express Care Virtual .
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
The Providence Women's Health team is committed to providing useful and actionable insights, tips and advice to ensure women of all types can live their healthiest lives.More Content by Providence Women's Health Team