Why do People Gain More Weight As They get Older?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 February 2020
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Gravity is a harsh mistress, along with her cohorts, Metabolism and Aging. They are largely responsible for the phenomenon known as "middle age spread," the tendency of many people to gain weight as they enter their forties and fifties. There are a number of factors which conspire to turn 20 year old athletes into 50 year old couch potatoes with expanding waistlines, some of which are out of anyone's control, such as genetics and the natural effects of the aging process.

One reason people tend to gain weight as they age is a change in metabolism. As we age, our digestive systems tend to work less efficiently, meaning less food energy is burned off as calories and more of it is stored as fat deposits. A child may be able to burn off excessive calories through play sessions or sports, but a sedentary middle age office worker who consumes the same meal may find more of it collecting around his abdomen as fat. This slowing of metabolism causes older people to gain weight which ordinarily would have been consumed during the digestive process.


Another reason why people gain weight as they get older is a lack of dietary restraint. Adults are no longer under the control of parents or school dietitians who made sure they received nutritious meals and controlled portions. There were certain foods such as pizza and marbled steaks which were considered problematic for growing children. Some people are capable of maintaining these early dietary habits, but others discover the pleasure of eating fatty or sugary junk foods high in carbohydrates and empty calories. Many workers also discover that a quick meal from a fast-food restaurant is often more convenient that preparing a healthier meal from home. Years of poor eating habits almost inevitably cause adults to get heavier as they age.

Many people begin their adult working lives in physically or mentally demanding entry-level jobs, which may help them stave off their tendency to gain weight. Younger adults may also continue to participate in organized sports or take up physically challenging hobbies such as jogging or yoga. As people age, however, they may find themselves in more sedentary positions at work and with busier family schedules at home. Relaxation and de-stressing become more of a priority than weight loss or exercise. An increasingly sedentary lifestyle with less motivation for unnecessary exertion can cause many people to gain weight as they enter middle age.

There are some studies which suggest a genetic reason why certain people gain weight as they age. The tendency to become obese or thin may be predetermined by a person's genetic family history. Every person's body handles the storage of excessive fat in different ways, and there may very well be a medical reason why certain people get heavier as they age, such as an imbalance in the thyroid or a disease affecting the digestive process. Some proponents of holistic medicine believe that adults gain weight whenever their digestive tracts or liver have been compromised by an accumulation of toxins. Once these toxins are safely removed through special cleansing programs, the liver and digestive tract should work more efficiently.


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Post 11

@anon336583: You have a point. But I was in that situation too and as another reply states "stop making excuses." I thought I was exhausted after work too but decided to spend an hour in the gym after work before I went home. Didn't really take an hour out of my day as I missed rush hour to the trip home was quicker. What I quickly found was that the gym, instead of tiring me out further, seemed to reinvigorate me so I arrived home refreshed and awake, much to the delight of my wife and kids. Try it.

Post 10

@anon336583: No it isn't, eat right and exercise. Quit making excuses.

Post 9

If you have to work for a living in an office eight to nine hours a day, then come home exhausted and hungry, it's pretty hard to lose weight.

Post 8

"How can less food energy be "burned off" due to metabolism?..."

Well, people's basal metabolic rate can vary based on gender/hormone levels, age, etc. The basal metabolic rate is basically how much energy you would expend lying in bed all day. Even if you stayed perfectly still, your insides would be doing a ton of stuff.

Women have a lower basal metabolic rate than men and that's why they eat less than men, even when they're the same weight and height. It's also why women complain about being cold more often; their bodies "burn" fewer calories and therefore put off less heat. So if a 40 year old woman eats 1900 calories and a 22 year old man eats 1900 calories (both while lying in bed all day), more will get turned into fat for the 40 year old woman than the man. This article is saying that this is also true for some individual people compared to their younger selves.

Post 7

The hunger is the same. The energy and inclination to burn it off is less. Thus, weight gain.

Post 6

RE: Our digestive systems working less efficiently.

This argument confuses me a bit. How can less food energy be "burned off" due to metabolism? If you eat 1k calories worth of food, then you should get 1k calories whether you're 15 years old or 55 years old. You don't get more calories from the same meal just because you're older, it's how you spend them that counts, and that depends on your activities.

Also, a "less efficient" digestive system seems to imply that less energy is gained from the food, whereas a 100 percent effective digestion would extract everything.

Post 5

Sunny27-That is so true. The weekly meetings are important for everyone and the weigh ins makes you accountable for your actions which is important when losing and maintaining long term weight loss.

I love Weight Watchers because it is something that you can follow for the rest of your life. The program is based on sound nutrition.

I think that another reason why middle aged people start to gain weight is that they tend to move less. Exercise gives you more energy, but if you exercise less you will tend to feel more tired and become a couch potato.

It is a vicious cycle that also makes you reach out for the wrong foods. Maintaining a sedentary

lifestyle and eating fatty foods is a recipe for disaster especially if you are middle age or older.

Also, if you do not deal with these problems early on, you will develop chronic diseases that may even be life threatening. The quality of your life will be drastically reduced if you don’t take care of yourself as soon as you start to feel the pounds creeping on.

Post 4

Oasis11-I love to swim, but it is a hard workout. I joined Weight Watchers recently in order to manage my “Middle age spread”.

It is a great organization that allows you to focus on portion control and behavior modification in order to successfully manage your weight.

Many of the members are middle aged people that developed poor eating habits throughout the years and now have many pounds to lose.

The great thing about Weight Watchers is that there is no judgment. No one berates you because you have had a bad week. Everyone is encouraging and members even share stories about challenges they have had.

Another thing that makes Weight Watchers work is that it is

viewed as a lifestyle change and not a quick fix. When people change their mentality from trying to lose weight as quickly as possible to trying to lose weight to enhance their health, they begin to see the connection that there is no cure for this condition only management of it.

People that reach their goal and then quit, often come back because they regain some weight because they did not view this as a permanent lifestyle change.

Post 3

Crispety- Middle age people should also take up aquatic exercises. Water aerobics are excellent resistance exercises and the likelihood of being injured as a result of this form of exercise is nil.

Also, water tends to offer natural resistance which allows you to burn fat without even realizing it. This is why many athletes resort to jogging routines in a pool.

They usually last longer in the pool and recover faster. Water aerobics or swimming routines are excellent exercises because they condition the entire body as well as strengthening the heart.

You can start with small intervals of a either laps or minutes of swimming and build from there. Unlike other highly aerobic exercises like running and jogging, swimming provides the same cardiovascular and physical benefits without stressing the knees.

Many people as they get older need to give up this form of exercise and swimming is a great alternative.

Post 2

Marmaduck- I know that is true. I have a weight problem and have consistently eaten everything on my plate.

Generally thin people eat until they are satisfied while overweight people continue to eat even if they are not hungry.

Food to them is more about entertainment and recreation and not about sustenance.

If you continue with poor eating habits when you reach middle age it is easy to see why you gain weight fast.

Beginning in your thirties, you start to lose lean muscle mass and the less muscle you have the lower your metabolic rate is and the more likely you will learn how to gain weight quickly.

This is why proper eating habits

and weight bearing exercises are important especially in middle age. Developing a weight training routine that will add lean muscle mass may make you gain muscle weight, but it will also allow you to burn more calories at rest.

This will not only allow you to have a trimmer physique but you will also protect your bones and will be less likely to develop osteoporosis.

Post 1

I got older, I made more money, we ate out more and we were able to afford richer food and we did not work as hard and gained weight. Now retired and working on losing it. Working at a hospital I noticed thin people leave a lot of food on their tray they do not eat. Fat people eat it all and then ask for seconds.

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