When you’re younger, you might hear about the dreaded “middle-age spread” and think it’s a myth, or at least an exaggeration. The truth, unfortunately, is that your body does change as you get older. Muscle mass decreases, which can slow the rate at which the body burns calories—you don’t need quite as many as you did earlier in life. While this happens to both men and women, ladies have the added difficulty of menopause, which often causes fat to be distributed around the stomach.
Your metabolism may begin slowing as early as your 20s, but most women notice a change as they approach 40. It’s not uncommon to put on about a pound a year in middle age. That may not seem like much, but it adds up over time.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Whether you’re still young and easily hanging onto your muscle or are a couple of decades older and trying to reverse the effects of weight gain, you can keep the pounds at bay. Here’s how:
1. Get your om on. A study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that 45-year-olds who regularly practiced yoga gained three fewer pounds by age 55 than those who weren’t spending a lot of time doing sun salutations. The results were even better for those who were overweight when the study began.
2. Record your food intake. Yes, it’s a pain to write down everything you eat, but it can be incredibly helpful in seeing what you’re actually consuming. Try it for a week and look for where you might be able to cut back or make swaps (like fighting a late-afternoon sugar craving with a cup of unsweetened tea). Bonus: In addition to promoting weight loss, increasing your fruit, vegetable and fiber intake can reduce menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweating.
3. Load up on nutrients. Adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D may keep the weight away. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that in women who’d been through menopause, those who took a calcium and vitamin D supplement weighed slightly less after seven years than those who did not. Scientists are researching why, but it could be that these nutrients help break down fat cells and keep new ones from developing.
4. Cook at home. It’s easier to make sure you’re getting a balanced meal when you’re preparing it yourself. When you’re eating at a restaurant, there may be hidden sugars in something seemingly healthy like minestrone soup that you would never think to add in your own kitchen. Plus, walking around a farmers market or grocery store is a little extra exercise, and that never hurts!