Mar 24, 2009
Women in their 40’s are at an advantage when it comes to weight control and fitness. How so? I asked three of my favorite medical experts to explain what it means to be fit and forty, and how you can get there.
Myth-busting With Dr. Dickerson
Dr. Val: I know that many women in their 40’s complain of having gained weight. What causes that weight gain? Is it inevitable?
Dr. Dickerson: Many women don’t gain weight in their 40’s so it’s certainly not inevitable. There are a few common misconceptions about weight gain and aging that I’d like to address.
First, hormone supplements don’t cause weight gain - menopause, in general, with or without hormones, is associated with about a 10 pound gain. This often starts in perimenopause so it could occur as early as the 40’s.
Second, lean muscle mass decreases slowly from mid-30’s probably until menopause when it decreases more steeply. So women in their 40’s don’t experience too large a change in their metabolism.
Third, the weight that women have in their 40’s is often about how many babies they have had. Data show us that women retain about 10 pounds per pregnancy. Weight begins to shift as the perimenopause era begins - more towards the abdomen and the hips and thighs.
And finally, weight gain is not due to hormonal or metabolic changes, but may be more about emotional eating. Women often experience the empty nest syndrome in their late 40’s and change their eating habits to constant “snacking” - they tend not to count these calories when adding things up
Dr. Vivian Dickerson, Past President of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Medical Director, women’s health programs and care, Hoag Hospital, Newport Beach, CA.
Increasing physical activity is the key to success
Dr. Val: How can women in their 40’s counteract potential weight gain? What’s the most effective strategy to stay trim and fit?
Dr. Hall: While it is true that body remodeling and loss of muscle mass probably starts in the late 30’s it is almost completely a matter of now much physical activity is taking place. Much of the perceived change in body image, (gravity-dependent “sagging”) is also accentuated with decreased muscle tone in the sedentary woman. Weight gain, on the other hand is quite related to caloric intake. It is greatly modulated by the degree of physical activity as well.
My general feeling is that most diets do not work, and the older you are, the truer that is. After age 40 women cannot consistently lose weight and keep it off without a plan of regular physical activity (aerobic) plus some resistance work (weights, bands) to improve body tone.
Dr. Bill Hall, Past President of the American College of Physicians and Director of the Center for Healthy Aging, Rochester, NY.
The 40’s: no better time to get trim and fit
Dr. Val: Do women in their 40’s have an advantage in losing weight?
Dr. Dansinger: Your 40’s are a great time to take lifestyle changes to new heights. Whether for weight loss, or prevention of diabetes or other related medical problems, many women who struggled in their 20’s and 30’s finally find success in their 40’s. For many women at this age, previously insurmountable logistical barriers such as raising preschool age children, or inflexible work schedules, often improve somewhat. Such expertise in schedule-juggling, when combined with a renewed commitment toward preventing health problems, often gives such ambitious women the strength and experience to finally achieve consistency with an effective exercise and healthy eating routine that produces long-lasting results.
Although the metabolism slows gradually throughout adulthood, the effectiveness of lifestyle changes for health improvements remains strong throughout life, and may actually become most beneficial as we grow older. Gaining muscle and bone strength through weight-lifting type exercise may help a woman in her 40’s reduce the risk of muscle and bone loss that typically affected women of her mother’s generation.
Dr. Michael Dansinger, Lifestyle Medicine Physician/Researcher, Tufts Medical Center, Boston. Nutrition and fitness advisor to NBC’s Biggest Loser.