Letting the days go by …

No one really plans on becoming middle-aged.  You just get there, eventually.  Different people have different ideas on when they achieve middle age — 40, 50, depending on how optimistic you are — but sooner or later, you’re forced to accept that  not only are you not 25, you’re not the same as you were at 25 and you’re never going to be in this lifetime.

Oh, and BTW, unless you’ve eaten like a sparrow and exercised  like a maniac, consistently, for the past 20 years, you’ve probably accumulated some extra LBs.  Your waistline has expanded and your muscle tone is, well, there’s less of it.

The good news is you’re not alone.  The bad news is there’s no magic wand you can wave to make that mid-life spread disappear.  As a rather depressing blog post from livestrong.com notes:

Losing weight at mid-life is more difficult than it was when you were younger.  Your metabolism is slowing down and your digestive system works differently now.  You can’t get away with some of the things you used to do and still lose weight.  The weight loss tactics that worked in your 20s won’t cut it any more.  A new plan of action is required.

Right.  Thanks for that. 

It gets even better.  The key take-aways here are:

  • Eliminate or reduce your alcohol consumption to no more than 1 drink a day.
  • Shrink portion sizes way down.  (This has always been a problem for me, as I can eat a lot.)
  • Exercise like there’s no tomorrow.
  • Get 8 hours of sleep a night.  (At least that part’s good.)

Granted, this is all intuitive, and, in fact, sounds very much like the weight loss tactics we’ve already used — successfully — when we were younger, right?

Well, yes and no.  The tactics themselves are pretty much the same, but when we reach mid-life we have to apply them much more intensively.  A 45-minute work-out four or five days a week isn’t going to cut it for me anymore — not if I want to lose 30 pounds.   I need to do at least an hour — probably more — five or six days a week, and I ought to add in weight training  to help compensate for the muscle tone my body is losing as part of the aging process.

And wine with dinner?  That’s got to go, too.  As livestrong.com sternly puts it:

There is no place for alcohol when trying to lose weight at mid-life. Not only is alcohol packed with empty calories, its effect is amplified because it also speeds up your fat-storing hormones, shuts down your fat-burning hormones and lowers your inhibitions, causing you to make poor eating choices.

Because I’m one of those people who doesn’t have just one glass of wine, it’s better for me to just not go there.  Don’t open that bottle.  Reach for the Brita pitcher instead.

Being on Weight Watchers has made me much more aware of portion size and when enough is enough.  But it’s not just a question of how much you eat — it’s also what you eat.  I’ve already cut down on meat consumption substantially, focusing more on fish and other protein sources.  And I eat so many salads it’s ridiculous.  Fortunately, I love salads and I love making them.  But carb intake, for example, is a challenge.  I like beans a lot, and they’re generally low in carlories.  The problem is that they’re high in carbohydrates, and too many carbohydrates can affect how your body processes and stores fat.  So I need to be careful about those.

But it’s really important to achieve and maintain a healthy weight in mid-life.  For one thing, it’ll only get harder as we grow older.  This is particularly true for women like me who are edging toward menopause.  According to the Mayo Clinic, “the most profound weight gain in a woman’s life tends to happen during the years leading up to menopause (perimenopause).”

The other thing is that carrying too much weight is just plain bad for us.  The Mayo Clinic says that weight gain after menopause is especially dangerous:

Excess weight increases the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. In turn, these conditions increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.  Excess weight also increases the risk of various types of cancer, including colorectal cancer and breast cancer.  In fact, some research suggests that gaining as little as 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) at age 50 or later could increase the risk of breast cancer by 30 percent.

Men are vulnerable to many of these risks too — and they are certainly not immune to mid-life weight gain.  Like women, their metabolisms slow down at middle age and they may have to work harder to maintain a healthy weight.

So what do we do about all this?  I know what I’m going to do.  After work, I’m hitting the gym, and when I come home, I”m making myself a nice, big salad.  Better refill the Brita before heading out.