Dear Fitness Coach,
I turned 50 in April, and I am already starting to fall apart! I have gained 10 pounds since January, my waistline is disappearing before my eyes, and my arms and legs are getting flabbier by the minute. I am not menopausal (yet!) so that can’t be it. I can’t understand what’s happening to me because I exercise: I walk 20 blocks to work three times a week and take a yoga class a few times a month. I cannot stand by and watch my body deteriorate. What can I do??
Fifty and Fighting It
Dear Fighting It,
I am glad you are fighting it, because over the age of 40 your body is like a battlefield: as you get older, it’s fat versus muscle. We start to lose 1-2% of our lean muscle tissue every year starting at age 30. This natural aging process is called sarcopenia. It’s cumulative, so by the time you reach 40 and beyond, it really starts to be noticeable. The only weapon you have to fight against the legions of fat cells taking over (those that cause flab and abdominal fat) is strength-training. You have to start lifting weights at least three times a week to put back on the muscle that you have lost over the past two decades.
Your goal should be to put on about 10 pounds of lean muscle. You are effectively replacing the fat on your body with muscle. For every pound of muscle you replace with fat, your body is burning an addtional 50 calories a day at rest. Aim to put on about a pound of muscle a month. Once you put on 10 pounds of lean muscle, your body will be burning an additional 500 calories a day – that’s 3,500 calories a week or a pound of fat! By turning your body into a fat burning machine (because muscle is more metabolically active than fat), you’ll be able to lose the weight that you've gained. Gaining muscle will also help firm up your arms and legs.
Continue with yoga for flexiblity, and walking is great cardio – but now you will be adding in weight training as well. Give yourself at least 3 months to start seeing changes, and the better part of the next year to reach your goals.