It is not easy to lose weight once you are over 50. There are many challenges that come with the territory, and it can feel like an uphill battle at times.
It’s important to understand what these challenges are so you can know how to overcome them. Once you know this, you can pursue your weight-loss goals without feeling overwhelmed or discouraged by seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common problems people face when they’re trying to lose weight after age 50 – things like hormonal changes, low metabolism, loss of lean muscle mass – as well as strategies for overcoming them.
Why Is Weight Loss Over 50 So Hard?
Losing weight after age 50 really is more challenging than before. The reasons for this are a mix of lifestyle and physiological factors, that in combination make dropping a few pounds harder. Here are 5 reasons why you may be struggling to shed weight at this age.
Loss Of Muscle Mass
Muscle is a great tool when it comes to weight loss. Not only does muscle burn more calories than fat, but the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is (11). Unfortunately, as we age we naturally lose muscle over time (13). When you have less muscle you’re likely burning fewer calories per day.
There’s more to the weight loss equation than burning calories. Calories in and out need to be balanced. As you get older, the body tends to be less efficient at processing food which means you probably need less energy to meet your daily energy needs. If you don’t reduce your calorie intake to match your slower metabolism, you’ll gain weight.
When women go through menopause and their hormones change, they typically suffer a loss of muscle mass, gain of fat, and an overall drop in metabolic rate (12). Men experience similar changes to their testosterone levels which have a negative impact on muscle mass, body fat, and metabolism (4).
Less Active Lifestyle
Being physically inactive is a big part of why it’s so hard to lose weight after 50 years old. At this age, you’re naturally less active than when you were younger. The more inactive you are, the fewer calories your body burns. Inactivity at this age may be due to mobility issues, pain management, or just being less enthusiastic about exercise.
Recent research has shown that sleeping poorly is an excellent predictor of weight gain in adults over 50 years old (3). When you sleep better, you’re able to be more physically active and have a lower appetite leading to better calorie burn rates. This affects your weight in two ways.
First, when you sleep poorly, your body will want to conserve energy which means you burn fewer calories. Second, in order to stay awake when you’re tired, you’ll eat more in an attempt to increase energy levels. Sleep issues can be caused by many different things including health conditions like sleep apnea and depression along with medications.
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What Foods To Eliminate Over 50 For Rapid Weight Loss?
As you age beyond 50, your body starts slowing down and so does your metabolism. This can be a disaster for weight loss targets as the pounds continue to stack up without proper dieting. By eliminating a few things from your diet, you will help maintain a healthy weight and even contribute to muscle gain if desired.
Refined Sugars And Sweeteners
First, food with refined sugars and sweeteners should be limited as they can negatively affect your weight and your health (16). These include:
- Sodas and fruit juices
- Cakes, pies, ice creams and pastries
- Candy bars and chocolate
- Ice cream
- Pasta and bread with white flour
In addition to refined sugars and sweeteners, colorings and chemicals may also be best avoided.
Refined grain products tend to be high in calories but provide few nutrients and little to no fiber, so they don’t make you feel full for very long and are easy to overeat. It’s better to get your carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Some examples of refined starches to limit are:
- White pasta
- White rice
- Refined wheat and corn products (breads etc)
Processed And Fried Foods
Lastly, highly processed foods and fried foods should be avoided. By avoiding these kinds of food, healthy eating can be maintained without much effort. Processed foods are often high in sugar, salt, saturated fat, and calories (7). They also contain fillers, chemicals, flavorings, and preservatives. Foods that involve frying can be high in fat and grease. Instead of eating fried foods, baked or grilled foods should be consumed as an alternative.
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Foods To Eat Over 50
One noticeable side effect of aging is how your body reacts to the food you eat. After the age of 50, the levels of ghrelin and leptin fluctuate, making you hungrier and less full when you diet. With that said, here are some foods that should be prioritized at this age.
Calcium is an essential nutrient for your body. It helps keep your bones healthy and strong, prevents bone diseases like osteoporosis, reduces the risk of some types of kidney stones, among many other benefits (5). Milk and cheese are great sources of calcium with one cup containing around 284 mg-920 mg depending on the type of milk or cheese you choose to have. Other foods rich in calcium are:
- Mozzarella cheese
Protein plays a role in the growth and development of cells, tissues, organs and muscles. Protein also helps to build strong bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. It also helps prevent muscle loss with aging (15).
Lean meat like beef is an excellent source of protein followed by pork tenderloin, salmon, tuna steak and turkey breast. Other foods rich in protein are
- Beans (kidney beans, pinto beans)
- Peas (split peas)
- Quinoa (whole grain)
- Tofu or tempeh (soy products)
Foods Rich In Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin for the human body (18). It helps to maintain healthy blood cells, protects nerve cells from damage that can lead to demyelinating diseases like Guillain-Barré syndrome or autoimmune diseases like pernicious anemia, and maintains good mental health among other benefits. One of the best sources of vitamin B12 are:
- Beef liver
- Cheese (cottage cheese)
- Fortified cereal
Foods Rich In Omega 3
Omega 3 is one type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). These types of fats have been proven to have positive effects on the body. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that people with higher levels of omega 3 were less likely to develop depression even when they are faced with stressful events. These types of fats can also lower your chances of heart disease, reduce triglyceride levels and blood pressure (14).
Foods rich in Omega 3 include:
- Salmon (wild-caught)
- Chia seeds
- Tuna (bluefin or albacore)
- Avocados (guacamole)
- Olive oil
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Fruits And Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. These nutrients help support healthy aging. They also reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar levels (9). Some fruits and vegetables that have high concentrations of antioxidants are:
- Brussels sprouts
- Green peas
What Weight Loss Workout Is Best For People Over 50?
Exercise can help reduce this loss of muscle mass by stimulating the production of new cells that maintain and build up muscles (8). Strength training in particular helps by increasing the amount of lean muscle mass on a person’s frame, which can increase their BMR.
In addition to this, strength training also increases the rate at which our body burns calories while we are not exercising or sleeping and boosts insulin sensitivity so sugar is more easily stored as energy. Increased insulin sensitivity means less fat storage and therefore weight loss.
Strength workouts should be done 2-3 times per week with a day of rest between workouts. What type of workout should you do? You can either do full body workouts or work out each group (legs, arms, abdomen) separately 2 times per week.
People over 50 should also add cardio workouts into their routine. Cardiovascular exercise helps improve heart health by strengthening the heart muscle and reversing any negative effects of inactivity on blood pressure levels (6). It can also help reduce joint pain and stiffness by increasing joint flexibility. Doing 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercises at least 5 times per week is recommended for people over 50 if they want to lose weight. Some good choices of cardio workouts include: running, walking, biking and swimming.
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Other Weight Loss Tips For People Over 50
Aside from choosing the right foods and doing exercises that increase lean muscle mass, there are also other tips for losing weight over the age of 50.
Get More Sleep
Sleep loss causes changes in the production of hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism, which can lead to weight gain or difficulty in losing weight (2).
Drink Alcohol In Moderation
Drinking alcohol has been found to be associated with belly fat accumulation and insulin resistance (1). However, drinking 1 glass per day of red wine can have health benefits. Moderate alcohol consumption has been found to increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) which is known as the “good” cholesterol (10). If you don’t currently drink alcohol, don’t start, but if you do, try to keep it to 1 drink per day or less.
Manage Your Stress Levels
Stress can have negative effects on your health. When stress levels are high, the body releases cortisol which causes weight gain especially around the waistline (17). It is important to manage stress levels by exercising, meditating or doing other relaxing activities that calm the mind and the body. Having a good support system will also help ease anxiety and stress.
The Bottom Line
Losing weight over 50 is hard. It requires determination to maintain a healthy lifestyle and work your way towards achieving your weight loss goals. The tips provided in this article should give you the tools to get started on losing that extra weight and keep it off.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Alcohol Intake, Insulin Resistance, and Abdominal Obesity in Elderly Men (2012, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Association between Reduced Sleep and Weight Gain in Women (2006, academic.oup.com)
- Association Between Sleep Duration and Weight Gain in Adults: A 6-Year Prospective Study from the Quebec Family Study (2008, academic.oup.com)
- Body composition, metabolic syndrome and testosterone in ageing men | International Journal of Impotence Research (2017, nature.com)
- Calcium Intake and Health (2019, mdpi.com)
- Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise | Cardiovascular Medicine (2018, frontiersin.org)
- Consumption of ultra-processed foods and health outcomes: a systematic review of epidemiological studies – Nutrition Journal (2020, nutrition.biomedcentral.com)
- Exercise Attenuates the Weight-Loss-Induced Reduction in… : Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2008, journals.lww.com)
- Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mortality | Circulation (2021, ahajournals.org)
- High-density lipoprotein cholesterol and alcohol consumption in US white and black adults: data from NHANES II. (1993, ajph.aphapublications.org)
- Increasing muscle mass to improve metabolism (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Menopause-Associated Lipid Metabolic Disorders and Foods Beneficial for Postmenopausal Women (2020, mdpi.com)
- Muscle tissue changes with aging (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Health Professional Fact Sheet (2021, ods.od.nih.gov)
- Protein | Advances in Nutrition | Oxford Academic (2018, academic.oup.com)
- Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Stress, cortisol, and other appetite‐related hormones: Prospective prediction of 6‐month changes in food cravings and weight (2017, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Vitamin B12 – Health Professional Fact Sheet (2021, ods.od.nih.gov)