How to stop midlife spread – in your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond

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In your 30s

As work and childcare commitments pile up, focus can drift too from eating sensibly – many parents report finishing off childrens’ leftovers, or eating late at night, which can reduce the amount of time needed for food to digest. This is also when dwindling metabolism makes itself known. It begins to slow as we age, meaning we might still imagine we have the metabolism of a teenager (and eat like one) when this is no longer the case. Pregnancy can also cause metabolic rate to slow, which may cause weight gain in 30-something women; disturbed sleep, too, can have the same effect. This, coupled with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles – heightened all the more by sitting at a desk all day – can make staving off excess weight more of a challenge than for previous generations.

In your 40s

For the sandwich generation, juggling teens with ageing parents as well as financial pressures and other big life events such as house moves, career changes, divorce and bereavements, can see focus on keeping waistlines in check slip away. Hormones are changing too – as progesterone levels drop, oestrogen becomes more dominant, which is stored in our fat, triggering the dreaded middle-aged spread.

We also become more resistant to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. When cells absorb food less well, it makes the brain think you’re hungry, and you may end up eating more calories than required. By combining protein, fat and carbohydrates at every meal, feelings of fullness should last longer, helping to reduce sugar cravings or the temptation to overeat.

This is important because muscle mass – the main way the body burns calories – begins to decrease at this stage, too. Experts recommend strength or weight training two to four times a week in order to retain lean muscle mass, and keep bones and joints healthy as we age.

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In your 50s

“In your 50s there needs to be more days in the week where you exercise and don’t drink alcohol than those that you do,” says Hannah Richards, nutritionist and author of The Best Possible You. “Alcohol affects your metabolic function and dumbs down your sleep and energy levels so think about what drinking one night makes you do the next day. It will make you eat more and move less, which will trouble your digestion, so start to limit it more than you already do.”

The need to keep our muscle mass topped up past 50 is key, adds nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr, who says we must “make sure to get in protein at every meal … Muscle helps to burn more calories and builds muscle mass, a predictor of good health as you age.”

In your 60s+

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Even if energy levels feel low at this stage of life, avoid eating microwaved meals in front of the TV with a glass of wine. “Think about developing new hobbies, such as playing tennis, golf, bridge to keep your activity levels up and make sure you’re looking after yourself by eating at a table, laughing and getting into bed before you’re tired,” suggests Richards. “This way you’re creating a solid foundation for all the systems in your body to work effectively.”

The gym may not be appealing to all 60-somethings, but undertaking household tasks can have a huge effect on fitness, too. Studies have shown that half an hour tending to the garden equates to playing badminton for the same period, or undertaking a yoga session; for those in need of a lower-impact means of burning calories, some pruning might well do the trick.

The Telegraph, London

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