Call it love handles, a beer belly, middle-age spread or a spare tire. They all refer to unwanted weight that creeps on over the years, especially after age 40.
You may be tempted to accept that weight gain as an inevitable part of getting older. It's important to avoid those extra pounds, though. Midlife weight gain may put you at risk for serious health conditions, such as diabetes.
Even people who are at a healthy weight when they reach middle age need to be careful not to put on weight as they get older, says Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D., co-chair of the Obesity Research Task Force at the National Institutes of Health. She points to a recent study that tracked more than 4,000 people for 30 years. In that time, nine out of 10 men and seven out of 10 women who participated became overweight.
Why do so many of us put on extra pounds as we get older? For one thing, Americans consume more calories than they did 30 years ago.
Large restaurant portions, calorie-laden fast foods and supermarket aisles stacked high with tempting choices make it all too easy to overdo it. On average, women now consume 300 calories more every day, and men take in an extra 170.
And, we're not burning off those calories. Only three out of every 10 American adults engage in regular physical activity. This is a problem because your metabolism -- how fast you burn calories -- slows with age. Most middle-aged adults lose one-third to one-half of a pound of muscle every year. And, the less muscle you have, the fewer calories you burn.
To prevent gradual weight gain, Dr. Nabel stresses that it's important to balance the overall number of calories you consume with the amount you burn. For most adults, that means eating smaller portions and building more physical activity into the day.
Try these tips to get started:
Think small. Cutting just 50 to 100 calories a day may help keep you from slowly putting on pounds. Leave a few bites on your plate. Drink water or a calorie-free beverage instead of a high-calorie beverage at lunch. Cut back on sweets.
Watch portion sizes. Offer smaller servings at home. When eating out, share an entrée or take half home. Avoid large or super-sized meals.
Get plenty of fiber. High-fiber foods help promote weight loss by making you feel full. Stock up on whole grains such as whole wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal, fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Eat breakfast. Research has shown that eating breakfast every day is a habit of people who lose weight and keep it off.
Get regular exercise. To lose weight or keep extra pounds at bay, aim to be active for 60 minutes on most days. Brisk walking, dancing and bicycling are good choices for aerobic exercise. Round out your exercise program by lifting weights or doing resistance exercises to build muscle. This gives your metabolism a boost so that you'll burn more calories. Even gentle exercises such as yoga may help prevent midlife weight gain. Talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen.
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