Age-related weight gain refers to the gradual increase in body weight that occurs as we age. This type of weight gain is common due to the changes in body composition, hormones, and metabolism that occur as we get older. The fat mass tends to increase while muscle mass decreases with age, leading to a slower metabolism. This makes it easier for us to gain weight and harder to lose it.
Causes of Age-Related Weight Gain and Prevention Tips
There are many factors that contribute to weight gain as we age. By taking steps to maintain a healthy weight as we age, we can reduce our risk of chronic diseases, improve our cardiovascular health, and enjoy a higher quality of life well into our senior years.
“It is increasingly recognized that changes in weight and body composition with age are strongly connected with health status and physical function. [and] On average, muscle mass declines with age, and even in older persons with stable weight, muscle is replaced by fat over time.” (Alley et al., 2016).
Changes in Sex Hormones During the Aging Process
One of the changes our bodies undergo as we age is a shift in hormonal balance, which can have a significant impact on our weight, metabolism, and overall health.
Testosterone and oestrogen are two hormones that play a key role in regulating body composition. At the onset of puberty, testosterone levels begin to increase in males, leading to the development of muscle mass and increased bone density. In females, oestrogen plays a similar role, controlling the development of breasts and hips.
However, as we age, testosterone and estrogen levels begin to decline. By the time we reach our 50s or 60s, men may experience a decrease in muscle mass and bone density and an increase in body fat. Similarly, women may enter menopause, which can lead to a redistribution of body fat and a decreased metabolic rate.
These hormonal changes can have a significant impact on our health. A decline in muscle mass can lead to decreased physical function, making it harder to perform everyday activities. Reduced bone density can also increase the risk of fractures, particularly in women.
Hormonal changes can also impact our mental well-being. Low testosterone levels in men have been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety, while menopausal symptoms in women such as hot flashes and night sweats can impact sleep quality and mood.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to manage hormonal changes and maintain our health as we age. One strategy is to engage in regular exercise, which can help preserve muscle mass and bone density. Eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods and low in processed foods can also support hormonal health. Speak with a healthcare provider about any concerns regarding hormonal changes and explore potential treatment options.
Decline in Growth Hormone Levels
Another hormone that begins to decline as we age is growth hormone (GH). GH is responsible for stimulating growth and cell reproduction in humans and animals, but its role extends far beyond childhood growth. GH also plays a significant role in building lean body mass, promoting fat metabolism, and strengthening bones.
Studies have shown that GH levels decline by as much as 50% in middle-aged adults, with further declines seen in older individuals. This is linked to a number of changes in the body, including increased abdominal fat, decreased muscle mass, and decreased bone density.
While some of these changes may be attributed to the natural aging process, research suggests that maintaining optimal GH levels may be an important factor in preventing age-related weight gain and maintaining overall health.
One strategy for maintaining optimal GH levels is exercise. Studies have shown that resistance training, such as weight lifting, can stimulate GH release in both young and older adults. Aerobic exercise, such as running or cycling, can also be effective.
Diet also plays a role in maintaining optimal GH levels. Consuming protein-rich foods can help stimulate GH release while consuming high amounts of sugar can have the opposite effect. Eating a balanced diet that includes whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can help support optimal GH function.
In addition to exercise and diet, some individuals may benefit from GH therapy. This treatment involves taking injections of synthetic GH, which can help to regulate GH levels and counteract the effects of age-related decline.
Thyroid Gland Function and Metabolism
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck that plays an essential role in regulating metabolism. Metabolism refers to the complex chemical processes that occur in our bodies to produce energy, maintain body temperature, and support other critical bodily functions.
The thyroid gland produces two primary hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), which control metabolism by regulating the rate at which the body converts food to energy. These hormones are produced in response to signals from the brain, specifically the pituitary gland, which releases thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to stimulate the thyroid gland.
If the thyroid gland produces too much or too little of these hormones, it can significantly affect metabolism and overall health. Hyperthyroidism, which occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much hormone, can result in weight loss, a rapid heart rate, and difficulty sleeping. In contrast, hypothyroidism, which occurs when the thyroid gland produces too little hormone, can cause weight gain, fatigue, and depression.
In addition to its role in regulating metabolism, the thyroid gland also plays a part in brain development and bone health. Low thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy can lead to developmental issues in the baby, such as poor cognitive function and growth. Additionally, low levels of thyroid hormone over time can lead to a decrease in bone density, increasing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.
Maintaining healthy thyroid function is essential for optimal health and well-being. Eating a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, and avoiding smoking can all support a healthy thyroid gland. If you suspect you have thyroid issues, talk to your healthcare provider, who can perform blood tests to evaluate your thyroid function and recommend appropriate treatment options.
Lower Levels of Insulin Sensitivity with Age
Another age-related change that can contribute to weight gain is a decrease in insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas and is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. When we eat, our body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream. Insulin helps transport this glucose into our cells, where it can be used for energy.
However, as we age, our cells become less responsive to insulin, meaning they are less able to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. This can lead to a build-up of glucose in the blood, which can be harmful to our health.
Lower levels of insulin sensitivity have been linked to a range of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Additionally, research has shown that a decrease in insulin sensitivity can lead to reduced cognitive function and an increased risk of dementia.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to help improve our insulin sensitivity and reduce our risk of developing these health conditions. Two of the most effective ways to improve insulin sensitivity are to get regular exercise and follow a healthy diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Avoiding processed foods and sugary drinks can also help keep blood sugar levels under control. Finally, chronic stress and lack of sleep have been linked to a decrease in insulin sensitivity, so managing stress and getting enough sleep can have a positive impact.
Impact of Stress Hormones on Appetite Control
Stress is an inevitable part of life and can come from many sources, including work, finances, and relationships. It can also impact our health in many ways, and one of those is appetite control.
Stress triggers the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones evolved in our ancient ancestors to help them flee from danger or combat threats. However, in modern life, they can lead to a range of health problems.
Cortisol in particular has been shown to affect appetite control. Elevated levels of cortisol can lead to an increase in hunger and food cravings, especially for high-calorie and high-carbohydrate foods. This is because cortisol triggers the release of glucose into the bloodstream, providing our body with a quick source of energy. But when cortisol levels remain elevated for a long period of time due to chronic stress, it can lead to a build-up of visceral fat, which is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
In addition to affecting our appetite control, stress hormones can also affect our metabolism. This is because cortisol can lead to an increase in insulin resistance and a decrease in the production of growth hormones. This can result in an increased risk of weight gain, especially around the abdomen.
So, what can we do to combat the impact of stress hormones on our appetite control and metabolism? One effective method is to engage in stress reduction techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga. These practices have been shown to reduce cortisol levels and improve mental and physical well-being.
Additionally, regular physical activity can help regulate hormones and improve metabolism. A combination of strength training and aerobic exercises has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, decrease inflammation, and promote muscle growth. This can help combat the negative effects of stress hormones on our bodies.
Diet Adjustments for Healthy Aging
By making adjustments to our diet, we can support healthy aging and reduce the risk of age-related diseases. One way to adjust our diet for healthy aging is to consume sufficient amounts of important nutrients. As we age, our body’s ability to absorb and utilise nutrients becomes less efficient, so focusing on nutrient-dense foods is crucial. Foods such as leafy greens, berries, nuts, and lean proteins provide a wealth of essential vitamins and minerals that our body needs to function optimally.
It is also essential to maintain a healthy weight as we age. As metabolism slows down, calorie needs decrease, so consuming excess calories can lead to weight gain. Pay attention to portion sizes and limit consumption of high-calorie, processed foods.
One specific dietary recommendation for healthy aging is increasing the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve cognitive function and reduce inflammation. Good sources of omega-3s include fatty fish, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. Consuming adequate amounts of fibre, found in vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, can also improve digestion and lower the risk of chronic diseases.
Another consideration for healthy aging is hydration. As we age, our body’s ability to regulate fluid balance decreases, so it is important to stay hydrated throughout the day. Drinking sufficient amounts of water, along with consuming hydrating foods such as fruits and vegetables, can support overall health and well-being.
The changes our bodies go through as we age can contribute to weight gain, which can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for preventing or managing age-related weight gain, but there are a number of strategies that can be effective. These include maintaining a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and managing stress levels.