How to Lose Weight Like a 20 Year Old

The older you get, the harder it can be to lose weight. These strategies and tips will help you be healthy and fit, no matter what your age.
Woman lifting weights

If you’re over 50 and trying to shed a few pounds, it’s not exactly inspiring to be constantly reminded that it’s harder to lose weight as you get older.

“Our bodies tend to conspire against us,” explains John J. Whyte, MD, author of AARP New American Diet: Lose Weight, Live Longer. “In our 20s and 30s, we have about 30 percent muscle and 20 percent fat. But by our 60s, we’re 15 percent muscle and 40 percent fat. As our lean body mass decreases, our bones shrink in density and size. We lose strength and flexibility, and it becomes harder to exercise.” Add a “perfect storm” of other aging realities – including a menopause muffin top and a metabolism that burns a quarter fewer calories at 60 than it did at 25 – and even the most committed Boomer is tempted to ask, “Why bother?”

Don’t get discouraged, Whyte urges. Get smarter by combating the natural processes of aging. For example, focus on building muscle, which burns more calories than fat, through strength-training exercises. Cultivate a daily habit of walking, yoga or swimming that keeps you limber and feeling good. It doesn’t have to be an extreme workout, either. A new study of how different levels of exercise affect women between 40 and 60 found that those who exercised at moderate intensity – defined as being able to talk in short sentences while working out – felt better and were more likely to exercise in the future than those who completed a vigorous routine. The takeaway: If moderate intensity is just your speed, don’t feel pressure to push any harder.

In fact, long-term health may be the biggest motivation to losing weight at this age. Research shows that carrying extra pounds is associated with increased mortality – in the form of diabetes, heart disease, blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. That’s not to mention the higher risk of hip fractures from falling. “Your reasons for achieving a healthy weight are more urgent,” says Whyte. “It’s not just about looking good in clothes. It’s about living longer.”

Here are some tips to help you stick with your program and maximize results:

Work with your aches and pains. You know exercise is an important part of any weight-loss program, but it’s hard to get to the gym when it hurts to touch your toes. “One of the challenges for women who are approaching menopause is that they feel too old or out of shape to do certain exercises like squats because their knees hurt. They say ‘I can’t do that!’” explains Becky Williamson, MS, exercise physiologist from San Jose, Calif., who specializes in fitness for the over-50 set. “So I ask ‘Well, what can you do?’ Figure out what you can do today, and you’ll be able to do a lot more in a month.” She encourages Boomers to find the root cause of their ailments, which could be weak muscles, muscle tightness or arthritis. “Don’t shy away from exercise. Work on those issues, and exercise will get easier. If you move more and get fluid circulating through your joints, you won’t hurt as much.”

Be mindful of menopause. It’s common for women undergoing “the change” to gain an extra five to 10 pounds. Common, yes, but not inevitable, or even permanent. “You’re not destined to keep those extra pounds,” says Whyte. “You just have to work a little harder.”

Find your comfort level. Who isn’t intimidated working out at a gym among the young, toned and beautiful, no matter your age? Find a group of people with whom you can grunt and groan, suggests Sheldon Zinberg, MD, founder of the national gym chain Nifty After Fifty. You can join a fitness center that caters to your demographic or participate in a group class, such as Pilates or aqua aerobics, which draw a wide age range and where you’ll see the same people week after week and feel a sense of camaraderie. “The social support and lack of pressure make people feel more comfortable. And when you feel more comfortable in an exercise program, you’re more likely to stick with it,” he says.

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