Is Middle Age Spread Inevitable?

Is middle age spread inevitable? The short answer: no. But there’s bad news and good news; in short, metabolic decline does occur with age, but there’s plenty we can do to fight it. What’s the biggest gun in our defense against age-related weight gain? Intense exercise!

The Bad News

As we age, our resting metabolic rate (RMR) decreases by about 2 to 4 percent every decade after the age of 25. What does that mean? It means a few things, and they’re not exactly great.

After about age 30, you can reasonably expect to see the following changes:

  • You might recover more slowly after a hard workout.
  • Your alcohol tolerance decreases, and certain foods (especially fried, spicy, or dairy-based foods) that you used to enjoy might now not sit as well.
  • Your digestion is slower.
  • Your sleep isn’t as sound.
  • You find yourself putting on chub in your midsection.

Somewhere between the ages of 25 and 65, we lose an average of 5 pounds of lean body mass (muscle and bone) per decade . . . which means that we also lose the metabolic power of that muscle, so we burn fewer calories at rest. Sigh.

The Good News

All of that is largely preventable. Or at least significantly forestallable. Chronological age isn’t the same as body age, and though we’re inevitably getting older, we can control a lot of the factors that contribute to metabolic decline with aging.

Just because we’re getting older doesn’t mean we have to roll over and accept middle-age spread. Turns out the key to maintaining lean mass (and health and metabolic efficiency in general) is intense exercise.

What, exactly, is “intense”? Well, that depends on where you are in your fitness journey. If couch surfing is currently your favorite sport, “intense” might mean taking a brisk walk or hopping on the elliptical machine for 20 minutes. If you’re an athlete used to a higher level of training, “intense” might mean wind-sucking, heart-pounding, butt-burning plyometrics or sprints.

But . . .

The key here is “intense.” Relaxed, steady-state exercise like walking and gentle yoga don’t yield the same clock-defying benefits. Which isn’t to say they’re not valuable. In fact, steady-state exercise is the perfect complement to all-out intensity workouts. Low-intensity workouts can lower cortisol, easing stress and promoting recovery from higher-intensity workouts, and they promote general health and well-being. However, they don’t have much effect on preventing age-related muscle loss or helping to maintain our RMR. To hit the sweet spot, try incorporating both styles of exercise into your weekly fitness routine. Balance hard, high-intensity workouts with relaxing, restorative low-intensity sessions for the best overall results.

The takeaway: intense exercise, whatever that is for you, has metabolic and other benefits that will help keep us healthier and stronger longer. Invest a bit of effort into good nutrition and muscle maintenance and you’ll exert significant control over the biological aging process.

Take action: If you’re not currently making exercise a part of your life, visit your physician to get a pre-exercise physical and the all-clear to go ahead. If you haven’t been working out for long, or if you’re not used to performing intense exercise, consider hiring a personal trainer to guide you through the process of establishing a workout regimen that suits your needs.


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