Is it harder to lose weight as you get older?
Reviewed by Dr Neel Patel
There has been a significant rise in the number of older adults who are overweight or obese. Data shows that although obesity is on the rise in all age groups, more of the over 55s are gaining weight than people in younger groups. This article will explore why it’s harder to lose weight as we get older and provides weight loss advice for older adults.
At what age does it get hard to lose weight?
Our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and Total Energy Expenditure (TEE) begin to decline at approximately 60 years old.
- BMR is the number of calories required for your body to function at rest
- TEE is the energy required for essential bodily functions plus the energy used during your daily activities, such as work and exercise
A decline in BMR and TEE can lead to weight gain in older people because their bodies may require fewer calories overall, but calorie intakes may not have changed.
Loss of muscle mass also happens as we get older. From age 30, muscle mass decreases at a rate of 3-8% per decade. This rate is even higher from aged 60 onwards. Loss of muscle is a completely normal part of ageing, but it can be rebuilt or maintained with strength training, and by dietary changes, such as an increase in protein.
A loss of muscle mass is often accompanied by a progressive increase in body fat, which is associated with increased insulin resistance in older people. Insulin is a hormone made in your pancreas and helps your body use glucose for energy. Insulin resistance is linked with obesity and diabetes.
What’s ‘the best’ way for older adults to lose weight?
Advice for maintaining a healthy weight in older age is similar to the advice given to younger groups:
- Eat a balanced diet and avoid processed foods – The Eatwell Guide is a good place to start
- Stay active – adults 65 and over should aim to be physically active everyday in some form, even if it’s light activity
- Get proper rest – most people need around 7-8 hours of sleep a day. Managing sleep is an important part of healthy ageing, especially as we sometimes find it harder to fall asleep as we get older
- Manage stress levels – keeping stress to a minimum supports in maintaining a healthy weight
Losing weight isn’t easy, especially if it’s been gained gradually over the years. Crash and fad diets should be avoided, and changes to your diet should be discussed with your GP. This is especially important if you’re taking medication for something else or managing a chronic illness, which becomes more common with age.
Unintended weight loss in old age
Unintentional weight loss is weight loss without any changes to your diet or routine. A study published by The Malnutrition Task Force found that 36% of the people polled (aged 60 and over) think it’s normal to lose weight as you get older. However, unintentional weight loss can be a sign of something serious, so it’s best to get it checked out if you or someone you know is experiencing this.
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