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For many of us, life gets better — easier, even — as we get older. We get more comfortable and confident in our own skin. But unfortunately, some things, like losing weight, don’t get easier with age. In reality, dropping unwanted pounds can feel harder than ever.
Whether it’s a busy schedule or stiff joints that’s holding you back, you might be less inspired to go to the gym. Those 10 pounds you gained in your 40s can become an extra 20 pounds in your 50s and 60s. But experts agree that it’s important to focus on achieving your healthy weight at any age.
“Excess fat is something we shouldn’t ignore no matter how old we are,” says Robert Huizenga, MD, an internist and associate professor of clinical medicine at UCLA. The good news is that while losing weight in your 60s is much harder, women actually won’t find it more difficult to lose weight than men. Dr. Huizenga says, “There has actually been no difference in the amount or rate of weight loss in individuals of either sex who are over 60 years old versus those who are younger.”
Michael Spitzer, a personal trainer and author of Fitness at 40, 50, 60 and Beyond, agrees, adding that “the true path to weight control and fitness after age 60 isn’t that much different than it is at any other stage of life.” However, there are certain factors that need special consideration.
What to consider before you start your weight loss journey
For starters, it’s important more than ever to actually talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen. “Medical problems, such as heart disease and metabolic disease, become more common after age 60, so it’s much more important to have a medical checkup before attempting a fat loss plan,” says Dr. Huizenga. Then there’s the fact that over the age of 60, your oxygen intake may be reduced by as much as one-third of what it was when you were 25. This might make it a tougher time to take deep breaths while you’re exercising. That’s why it’s crucial to ease into a new exercise routine.
This is also the decade when your hips, knees, and other key joints are more likely to develop arthritis, which means that your go-to running or aerobic workouts may need to be swapped for swimming and/or gentle walking plans.
With that said, there are steps you can take to make your weight loss journey more manageable. Here are expert-approved tips that’ll help you clean up your diet, lose excess weight, and set you up for better health in your 60s, 70s, and beyond.
1. Focus on fat loss, not weight loss.
During this decade, you want to focus on building more muscle instead of decreasing the number on the scale. “At advanced ages, you cannot afford to lose muscle, organ tissue, or bone mass,” says Dr. Huizenga. Lifting weights is important as you get older because you lose a percentage of muscle every year. This affects your metabolism and ability to get rid of body fat. With age, your bones also become weaker, especially if you’re post-menopausal, which is due to lower estrogen levels — the hormones responsible for maintaining bone mass. But by creating pressure on your joints through weight-bearing exercises, you can actually help build stronger, healthier bones. So instead of focusing on what the scale says, turn your energy and attention into adopting a new strength training routine, which brings us to our next point.
2. Add strength training to your workout routine.
Muscle loss equals a slower metabolism, which explains why you’re more likely to put on — and hold on to — those extra pounds. But lifting weights can help rev up your metabolism by building muscle mass.
If you don’t have a consistent weight training regimen, you’ll want to start slowly. It’s also worth working with a personal trainer who provide a personalized strength training plan. By easing into a new plan, it will give your body time to adapt without placing too much strain on your muscles or joints and help you avoid injury, says Dr. Huizenga.
But don’t get too comfortable with an easy resistance-training program. It’s important to gradually increase the amount of weight you lift. “It’s critical that significant resistance exercise be incorporated into any fat loss plan over age 60,” he adds. Once you can do 10 to 12 reps with a five-pound dumbbell and feel like you could keep going, it’s time to upgrade to an eight-pound weight, and so forth. “You know you’re lifting the right amount of weight if you can just barely make it to the end of your repetitions before needing to rest,” he says.
3. Stay hydrated.
Of course, this is a tip for anyone trying to lose weight and boost her overall health, but it’s especially important as we get older. That’s because as we age, the hypothalamus, which controls our hunger and thirst, becomes desensitized, dulling our thirst signals, says Matt Essex, founder of ActiveRx Aging Centers in Arizona. “Plus, many older people avoid drinking water so they can avoid running to the bathroom constantly,” adds Christen Cooper, RD, a dietitian in Pleasantville, NY. “This is especially true for men with prostate issues and women with bladder limitations.”
Since water is key for digestion and metabolism, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough. Our bodies can easily mistake thirst for hunger, which causes us to eat more than we actually need. Consider purchasing a water bottle with a timeline tracker to remind you when you need to take swigs throughout the day.
4. Load up on protein.
If ever there was a time to focus on getting enough lean protein, it’s now. “There is some evidence that older adults need more protein,” says Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, senior director of worldwide nutrition education and training at Herbalife. Aim to get roughly 30 grams of protein at each meal, and more if you tend to crave carb-rich foods.
“In my practice, I notice that dietary patterns tend to shift somewhat with age, and as people get older, the calories that were once spent on lean protein might now be spent on carbohydrates or fats,” says Bowerman. Not only does adequate protein help support muscle growth and repair, but it’s also more satiating than carbs and fats, meaning you’ll be less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks, Bowerman says.
5. Be patient.
While it’s just as possible to reach your healthy weight in your 60s as it is when you were in your 20s, it might take a little longer. You might not be able to push yourself as hard as you’d like to during your workouts, leading to a lower-calorie burn. Or, you may not be as strong as you once were, prompting you to lift lighter weights (also lowering that calorie-burn number you see on your fitness tracker). “Keep your focus on the healthy behaviors you’re adopting in order to achieve your goal, rather than your frustration if it’s not happening right away,” says Bowerman. If you stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan, your weight will take care of itself over time.
6. Stretch often.
The more flexible you are, the more you will enjoy any physical activity you do and the less chance you’ll have of injury, says Rami Aboumahadi, a certified personal trainer based in Florida. And at 60 years old, a less active lifestyle and an increase in aches and pains can make your flexibility plummet. Consider taking a yoga class or simply adding a few stretches to your day, particularly after you’ve taken a walk or warmed up your muscles in some other way.
7. Think positive.
If you’re constantly thinking, “gaining weight is part of the aging process” or “everybody my age is overweight” on repeat, it’s time for new weight-loss mantras, says Cooper. “It’s important to avoid slipping into a mindset that will prevent you from losing weight,” he says. Find a community of people who want to get fit and stay that way so that you surround yourself with as much support as possible. Perhaps you can find a walking group, take a group fitness class, or talk a few friends into joining you for water aerobics at the local pool. “Too often, what limits us from achieving our weight-loss goals is all psychological,” says Cooper.