With busy schedules and loads of processed and fast foods everywhere, losing weight after 40 fast can seem like a pretty difficult task. It’s no wonder so many people question, “How can I boost my metabolism after 40?”
While it’s a common assumption that your metabolism slows down after your 20s or 30s, new research suggests this isn’t necessarily true. It’s now thought that you burn roughly the same calories from your 20s until your 60s, which means losing weight after 40 has more to do with your lifestyle than your genetics or age.
When it comes to trimming down, keeping fit and losing belly fat, exercising and eating a healthy diet are both key, as are getting enough sleep and keeping stress in check. Read on to learn more about losing weight after 40.
Weight Gain vs. Losing Weight After 40
Recent research shows that, on average, adults gain about one or two pounds per year during adulthood. This might not seem like a lot, but it adds up over time.
Creeping weight gain at this rate equates to gaining about 10–20 extra pounds each decade. From someone’s early 20s to early 50s, this could mean carrying around an extra 20, 30 or even 40 pounds.
Women who struggle to lose weight during middle age often blame it on their hormones or slowing metabolisms.
Weight gain during menopause is very common. Statistics show that many women tend to gain about five to 15 pounds on average during and shortly after menopause.
However, there is a big range seen among menopausal and post-menopausal women, ranging from three to 30 pounds depending on someone’s lifestyle.
Why You Gain Weight After 40
A pivotal August 2021 study published in the journal Science, which included data from roughly 6,500 people ranging from infants to 95-year-olds, discovered that the main reason people gain weight mid-life is because they eat more calories than they burn — not because their “metabolism is slowing down.”
The study also found that there were no real differences between the metabolic rates of men and women after controlling for other factors like body size. (It takes more calories to maintain a larger body mass, which most men have compared to women.)
The main findings of the study, which focused on weight gain across one’s lifestyle due to changes in metabolism, found that metabolic rates can roughly be divided into four distinct stages of life:
- Up until age 1, calorie burning is at its peak.
- From age 1 to about age 20, metabolism gradually slows by about 3 percent a year.
- From age 20 to 60, one’s metabolic rate roughly remains steady.
- After age 60, one’s metabolism declines by 1 percent a year.
Then why is it difficult to lose weight after 40? There’s a number of reasons that someone might struggle to maintain a healthy weight mid-life, such as:
- Reduced muscle mass, mostly due to having a sedentary lifestyle and completing less daily physical activities
- High calorie consumption, due to eating a diet high in processed foods (or even worse, ultra-processed foods)
- Low intake of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats like omega-3s
- Insulin resistance, which often interferes with your appetite and can lead to more weight gain the midsection
- Chronic stress and depression, which increases cortisol and other “stress hormones” that can lead to fat accumulation plus cravings
- Sleep deprivation, which interferes with normal metabolic functions and is associated with obesity, hypertension and other metabolic disorders
- Use of some medications, such as antidepressants that can contribute to weight gain
Contrary to popular belief, women experiencing menopause don’t necessarily experience a decline in their metabolisms, according to the study mentioned above — which means that shifting hormones shouldn’t be blamed for weight gain (at least not entirely).
How to Lose Weight After 40
Losing weight after 40 should basically be approached in the same way it would be if you were 30 or 50.
So how do you get rid of belly fat after 40? Here’s where to start losing weight after 40:
1. Clean Up Your Diet
First and foremost, it’s important to become more aware of your food choices and how many calories you consume on average. A food journal can be a great way to do this, since it sheds light on your habits and patterns that you may be overlooking.
Experts believe that food tracking, such as keeping a log or using a phone app, can help with maintaining long-term weight loss.
To help prevent weight gain and encourage weight loss in your 40s, make it a priority to choose lower-calorie, nutrient-dense foods. Here are some tips for doing that to with losing weight after 40:
- Remove as many processed foods from your diet as possible, especially calorie-dense ones like desserts, chips, fried foods, pizza, processed meats, frozen meals and sugary drinks. Many studies show that limiting consumption of ultra-processed foods may be the most effective strategy for obesity prevention and treatment, since processed foods considerably increase how many calories people consume.
- Choose real, whole foods instead. Try eating mostly things that are one or two ingredients and free of added sugar, preservatives, fat and flavors.
- Fill up on high-fiber foods, like vegetables, fruits, salads, beans, broth-based soups and whole grains. These foods make you feel fuller, are high in nutrients and are generally low in calories.
- Include some protein with every meal, such as fish, yogurt or legumes, which helps to control your appetite. For some people, low-carb diets that include more protein and healthy fats (such as the keto diet) can also be effective for weight los.
- Pay attention to portions sizes. Practice mindful eating, and notice how much food you consume with each meal and how often you snack. Be especially careful to limit portions of sugary foods, refined carbs (like bread, pasta, rice), and high-fat things like dressings, butter and oils. (Fat in your diet is essential, but portion control is important.)
- Consider trying intermittent fasting, which usually means fasting for about 13 to 16 hours a day and eating only within the remaining hours. This tends to reduce people’s overall calorie intake and makes them think more carefully about their choices — plus it benefits many metabolic and immune functions.
2. Meal Prep to Take Control of Your Calorie Intake
Make an effort to set aside a few hours each week for grocery shopping and meal preparation, which will prevent you from eating out often and limit last-minute decisions that can be unhealthy ones.
Many people have success with meal prepping on the weekends, such as by making a few staples each week, including some vegetables, a healthy protein and some nutritious on-the-go snacks. Cutting up fresh fruits and vegetables to have on hand in the refrigerator is another smart habit to get into.
3. Exercise Consistently
To maintain muscle mass, mobility and overall functionality, keep incorporating movement and different types of exercises into your daily routine.
As you age, you might find it harder to do high-intensity workouts (although these have many metabolic benefits), but things like brisk walking, jogging, using an elliptical, weight training, swimming and cycling are still great options.
Ideally aim for a mix of aerobic and resistance-training exercises each day. This combination is beneficial for muscle growth, plus your heart, metabolism, brain and immune system.
Strength/resistance training is especially helpful for maintaining a healthy metabolic rate, since muscle requires more energy (calories) to be maintained.
In addition to exercising, try to limit the amount of time that you’re sedentary each day, such as watching TV, sitting while using a computer, etc. Build more movement into your day by walking around, taking the stairs, doing housework and so on.
Wearing a fitness tracker can help with this, especially if you set a reminder to take movement/standing/stretching breaks more often.
4. Get Enough Sleep and Manage Stress
Chronic stress can also cause weight gain because it increases production of cortisol, a hormone that can cause an increased appetite and more fat to be stored in your belly.
Both can make it harder to have the energy to be active during the day. Studies show that being tired tends to worsen cravings for unhealthy foods, and it interferes with how your body regulates insulin and glucose.
Here are some helpful ways to deal with stress and promote better sleep to help with losing weight after 40.
- Aim to sleep between seven and nine hours per night, which is what most adults require to remain metabolically healthy.
- Establish good sleep habits, such as creating a “wind down” bedtime routine that makes you feel calm. Try to go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time each night. This regulates your circadian rhythm (aka your internal clock), which plays a role in your metabolism. Make a point to disconnect from your digital devices at night, including your phone, TV and computer, so blue light emitted from these devices doesn’t make you feel restless.
- To relieve stress, try breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, reading, journaling, therapy and spending time in nature. All of these can help trigger the body’s relaxation response, and they may improve your sleep.
- Limit how much caffeine and alcoholic drinks you consume, especially close to bedtime. Experts recommend no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two a day for men.
- During the daytime, get some sunlight exposure. This can help normalize your circadian rhythm, and it will increase your vitamin D levels. Studies show that people with normal vitamin D levels tend to have an easier time shedding weight than those who are deprived.
What about losing weight after 50?
The weight loss tips above apply to adults in their 50s too. It’s all about eating well, moving more and taking good care of yourself holistically.
You may have to adjust the types of exercise you do as you age, but this should naturally lead to a lower appetite if you’re less active. By focusing on a clean diet, mindful eating and portion control, you should be able to adjust your calorie intake as you get older to meet your body’s demands.
Risks and Side Effects of Losing Weight
When it comes to weight loss, slow and steady is usually the best approach, rather than following fad diets and drastically cutting calories.
To lose weight safely and keep it off, try to reduce your daily calorie intake by about 300–500 calories. This should lead to about a one- to two-pound loss per week.
Keep in mind that once you’ve lost weight you’ll need to maintain it by continuing to live a healthy lifestyle. Your metabolism actually adjusts to weight loss by lowering your calorie needs, so continue emphasizing healthy, whole foods.
If you’ve tried all the steps above and aren’t able to shed excess weight, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with a registered dietitian or your doctor. You can discuss potential issues like a thyroid condition, insulin resistance or prediabetes.
- Losing weight after 40 may seem tough, but it’s certainly not impossible.
- Believe it or not, your metabolism stays roughly the same form your 20s through your 60s. However, an unhealthy lifestyle often causes weight gain during these decades.
- How can a 40- to 50-year-old woman/man most easily lose weight? First and foremost, avoiding processed foods and eating a clean diet are essential. Exercise, stress management and sleep are also important for losing weight after 40.
- Some other strategies and tools that can help with losing weight after 40 include intermittent fasting, keeping a food diary, wearing a fitness tracker and sticking to a regular sleep-wake-cycle.