The Challenges of Losing Weight
The success of losing weight after 50 becomes less achievable in the minds of individuals, as we approach 50 and beyond; however, with knowledge of safe and effective methods to lose weight, many over 50 will discover that losing weight begins in the mind and that lean muscle mass is more obtainable than we realize. The benefits of an effective weight loss plan support the healthy maintenance of blood pressure (for adequate flow of oxygen to the major organs of the body), mobility (hindered by excess weight gain, chronic joint pain, and injury), and a better self-image (when you have good self-esteem, you feel confident in your abilities and are open to positive feedback and learning new skills).
For individuals over 50 years old (and even those under), additional efforts to maintain muscle mass while losing weight support the burning of calories at rest, increased daily activity, and fat burning; which provides the energy that supports the daily activity. The most primary methods for fat loss involve fasting, diet (calorie restriction), exercise (lifestyle modification), and sleep (Arcadian rhythm), but it becomes important to understand how these methods are tailored to the over 50 individuals within his or her unique standards for applying these methods.
Fasting and Intermittent Fasting
Essentially, fasting cleanses our body of toxins (as a result of poor food intake) initially by gluconeogenesis (the natural process of the liver converting lactate, amino acids, and fats into glucose energy when no sources of glucose through diet are present), then ketosis sets in (when the body burns stored fat as its primary power source). “To a great extent, our ability to bounce back from unexpected events is influenced by our willingness to anticipate changes that are likely to occur, which helps us get ready for them BEFORE they happen.” – Wylie, K. (2021). To a greater extent, the body (depending on health conditions) becomes less resilient to the physical effects of fasting as we age.
If you are feeling weaker and daily activity have become more difficult, your quality of sleep is suffering, and your mental health is worsening by the anguish toward the commitment to lose weight, fasting (specifically intermittent fasting) may not be right for you. While there is no specific evidence regarding the effects of fasting on older adults, intermittent fasting for people with marginal body weight, or underweight, could be at risk for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) that negatively affects the brain, heart, vision, and digestive function.
IF not monitored closely, you could also lose too much weight, which can result in nutrient deficiencies in your skeletal (bone disease)and immune systems. Diabetics need to eat periodically to respond to medications that lower or raise their blood sugar. “People who need to take their medications with food or take heart (or blood pressure) medications may not do well with fasting because they are more likely to suffer dangerous imbalances in potassium and sodium (which affects heart function) when they’re fasting.”
Diet and Weight Management
Your metabolism slows down while you age and weight gain becomes more of a nuisance, so it becomes necessary to monitor your caloric intake (take in fewer calories) during your aging process. While programs, like Weight Watchers, support the idea of losing weight with diet (eating habits) and focus on calories in vs. calories out, the journey to lose weight is more successful with the utilization of weight loss plans and meal plans that promote the gradual loss of weight as well as muscle mass gain. Although losing weight fast might be tempting, it’s not recommended to lose more than 1 to 2 pounds per week because losing weight requires a consistent adaptation to this lifestyle change and adjustment to a slower metabolism.
Expecting to lose a large amount of weight within a short time can not only be dangerous to your physical health, but the result of not losing as much weight as expected can also be detrimental to your mental health. Fast weight loss is difficult to maintain and stay committed to. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends the consumption of a diet consisting of a variety of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, such as brown rice and whole-wheat pasta. Lean meats, beans, skinless poultry, and reduced-fat dairy products are also recommended.
Diets with high sugar content (specifically refined sugar) promote excessive weight gain and maintaining elevated blood glucose levels will eventually lead to cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Natural sugars existing in fruit are more balanced than refined sugars although some fruit, like yellow bananas, just so happens to be high in sugar AND potassium (good for heart health, but bad for losing weight).
Aerobic exercise, or cardio, burns calories that contribute to your daily caloric deficit. Counting calories can become labor-intensive, but it is much easier to read labels than calculate how many calories you need to lose weight. The process for losing weight becomes less deliberate and sub-conscious when you are conducting daily activities like shopping, housekeeping, or taking walks through the park or neighborhood. If you desire to be more deliberate with your exercise plan and burn more calories, resistance training will accelerate your weight loss and maintain/increase your muscle mass.
Strength training promotes the gain of more muscle mass because it preserves and increases muscle tissue (and bone density), which uses up a lot of calories to sustain itself. Strength training with different levels of resistance (two to three days of the week) exerts a balanced amount of fatigue while also providing adequate recovery time while the muscles repair themselves. Daily activities like walking, sitting, climbing stairs, or picking up laundry require the use of large muscle groups that also happen to burn more calories in a shorter time, but do not directly target the loss of muscle mass.
It is suggested that working for your large muscle groups and continuously (safely) increasing the resistance, so it becomes harder to do another repetition with perfect form after finishing a set, will support your workout plan. Exercises can include pushups, bench presses, lat pull-downs, crunches, squats, deadlifts, and lunges, but at a lower moderate weight as you age and lose weight. For experienced athletes who continue to participate in high-intensity interval training (HIIT), not as much, but it becomes necessary to seek professional guidance in planning your exercise routine.
Other resistance tools like bands or tubes may provide a safer alternative to lifting weight. From personal experience, resistance bands result in a consistent resistance for a shorter period of time. You will find that the longer you stretch the band, the greater the resistance to your movements.
Always warm up with five to 10 minutes of stretching, then light cardio, before starting your workouts. The risk for injury is much easier as you age, so If you’re new to exercise (or already have an injury or health condition), it is prudent to get your doctor’s consent before engaging in any physical activity. Individuals will also find that the motivation to exercise (and focus on what you are doing) is directly related to how much sleep you acquired the night before.
Importance of Sleep
Sleep is the most important to exercise, muscle mass gain, diet, and recovery. However, losing weight is not purely an exercise/diet issue. It is more of a mindset issue and the mindset will always lack focus and clarity when you are not getting adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation, especially after 50, can leave you feeling groggy and fatigued throughout the day which can make the challenge of losing weight even more difficult.
Lack of sleep increases the stress hormone cortisol in the body resulting in the loss of focus on your goals, while the cravings for pleasurable foods increase. When your cortisol levels are high, you are more prone to reach for the high carb content in baked goods (or highly processed foods) to quell those food cravings when you are stressed by life, illness, or injury, which results in large amounts of insulin being released. When excess insulin and cortisol are released together, they create lipoprotein lipase (LPL) which store belly fat.
Extreme levels of cortisol can cause damage to cells, thus lowering their insulin sensitivity, and causing your digestive system to become unbalanced. At this point, your brain is no longer able to accurately perceive when you are full and you are no longer able to control the amount of food you eat. Cortisol will also affect your endocrine and immune systems.
The body knows that high-carb foods will help reduce cortisol levels by releasing insulin to counteract the cortisol and reduce your stress so it becomes necessary to manage your stress levels to the best of your ability. Typically, as you lose weight and improve your self-image, you will discover that your body’s ability to handle stress will improve. Losing weight will also improve your sleep quality and potentially avoid the chronic illnesses that may follow untreated sleep apnea.
The balance between fasting, diet, exercise, and recovery is a daily task that is easily disrupted by unforeseen challenges. Again, the goal to lose weight is more of a mindset issue and the mindset will always determine whether you are motivated to continue your exercise plan. Seeking professionals that provide medical advice for concerns with health conditions may influence this motivation to comply with the physical effects that parts of the plan (like fasting) will have on the ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle and lose weight after 50.
While there is no specific evidence regarding the effects of fasting on older adults, many of us know that our metabolism will slow down. For most individuals after 50, life becomes more sedentary as you age so the meal plan becomes your best tool for losing weight. The risk for injury is much easier as you age, so If you’re new to exercise (or already have an injury or health condition), it is prudent to get your doctor’s consent before engaging in any physical activity.
Finally, losing weight as you age is definitely possible. The success of an active lifestyle becomes less achievable in the minds of individuals, as we approach 50 and beyond; however, with knowledge of safe and effective methods of weight management, many over 50 will discover that journey to better health begins in the mind and is more obtainable than we realize.
Wylie, K. (2021). Bounce Back Better than Ever: How to Develop Your Resilience after Age 50; https://themidlifeentrepreneur.com/how-to-develop-resilience-after-age-50/
Good luck in your goal of weight loss after 50.
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What Are Overweight and Obesity?