Gaining Weight? How to Fire Up Your Metabolism After 50

Middle-age spread crept up on you, huh? Feeling like your metabolism has just slooooowed down now that you’ve over 50? While there have been some findings that suggest our metabolism doesn’t change as much as we thought it did in mid-life, there’s no doubt that a lot of people pack on the pounds as the years go by, whatever the reason. That means you might be looking for ways to ignite your metabolism, so you don’t feel like your weight is spiraling out of control as you age – and there are ways to do it! Check out the following foods you can incorporate into your diet, as well as actions you can take, that could help get your metabolism fired up again, no matter your age.

Aging and Weight Gain

When it comes to aging and weight gain, the statistics are pretty depressing. While not everyone will pack on the pounds as the years go by, most people will find it hard to lose or even maintain their weight as they age. In fact, according to a review by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, most of us will gain 1 to 2 pounds a year. Why? There are a few reasons:

older man measuring his bicep

  • Age-related muscle loss – Yes, you actually lose muscle as you age: in fact, the amount of lean muscle we have begins to decline by 3 to 8% per decade after age 30, a process called sarcopenia. And you’ve probably heard that muscle burns more calories than fat, so if you’re losing muscles and eating the same amount of calories…well, you can guess the rest.
  • Lifestyle changes – As you’ve gone through your busy middle-age, you might have gotten out of the habit of finding time to exercise, or might have gotten a little lax with your dietary habits, and that can all add up.
  • Normal hormonal changes – For women, menopause causes a significant drop in estrogen that encourages extra pounds to settle around the belly. And for men, a significant drop in testosterone beginning around age 40 can make the body less effective at burning calories, since testosterone helps regulate fat distribution and muscle strength and mass. We also stop producing as much growth hormone as we age, which makes it harder to build and maintain muscle. 
  • Metabolic changes – As we pointed out above, recent studies have shown that the relationship between aging and metabolism is more complicated than we thought, but it is pretty clear that less muscle mass and being less active with age can wreak havoc on our metabolism as we get older.

So how do we fight the battle of the bulge? We can’t change the fact that our hormones shift, but we can try to fire up our metabolism by dealing with those two other issues: our bodies and our lifestyles.

Foods That Fire You Up

What you eat is obviously related to your weight in a calories in, calories out kind of way, but in addition to eating in a moderate way, there are also simple foods that you can incorporate into your diet that studies suggest can boost your metabolism. These include:chili peppers in a bowl

  • Chili peppers – Research suggests that the capsaicinoids (CAPs) found in both chili peppers and pepper extracts could play a role in enhanced metabolism. According to a Bioscience Reports study, capsaicin (the most common capsaicinoid) has been found to support metabolic health, especially when it comes to weight loss in people who are obese. 
  • Ginger – In some studies, ginger has been shown to enhance thermogenesis (calorie burning). It is also filled with antioxidants whose anti-inflammatory properties could help with weight loss. 
  • Oats (and other whole grains) – Studies show that substituting whole grains for refined ones could help increase your resting metabolic rate. And oats specifically are a good option because they are a great source of resistant starch, or starch that escapes from digestion in the small intestines of healthy people. Once it reaches the colon, this resistant starch acts like a food source for the good bacteria that live in your gut, improving your ratio of “good” to “bad” gut bacteria – and a healthy gut helps support energy metabolism. 
  • Dark chocolate – Yes, chocolate – but make sure it’s dark – the darker the better – and make sure you eat it in moderation, since it is a caloric food. But says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LDN, CLEC, CPT, “According to results of a study published in Molecules in 2018, people who had a daily consumption of 2 grams of dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa, for 6 months experienced better aspects of glucose metabolism versus people who had 2 grams of chocolate milk for the same amount of time.”
  • Protein – Foods high in protein also have a high thermic effect, which means it’s much more difficult for your body to break down into its usable parts. In other words, when you eat protein, you use more calories just during the digestion phase than when you’re eating other things.
  • Omega-3Fish oil can reduce inflammation and cortisol, which in turn helps with fat metabolism and muscle gain.

Sounds like we’re all in for some tasty ways to fire things up. With winter approaching, we’re already thinking about a fiery chili laced with dark chocolate… But while we’re dreaming of things to eat that can boost your metabolism, let’s also think about other ways to do it, including some that might surprise you.

Surprising Other Ways to Boost Your Metabolism

Boosting your metabolism is not just about what you eat. There are other ways to fire it up, so you burn more calories even when resting. Consider these lifestyle changes you can make:

Drink More Water

dumbbells on a rack in a gym
Weight training 2-3 times a week can help boost your metabolism.

Let’s start with a super easy – and probably surprising – one: drink more water to increase your metabolism!  Studies have shown that drinking half a liter (500ml) of water can increase resting metabolism by up to 30%, but only for an hour at a time. How? When we drink, our body goes through a state called thermogenesis to heat the water to body temperature. Using energy to create heat like this requires burning calories, which can in turn boost metabolism. And while the effect only lasts for an hour, you can take advantage of this thermogenesis multiple times a day. So make sure you’ve got your water bottle with you at all times!

Build muscle

You were expecting this one, right? But here’s something that might surprise you: if you just lose weight, you could actually end up slowing down your metabolism. What you need to do is also gain lean muscle, also called body recompositioning. And yes, to build muscle you should be doing weight training 2-3 times a week, while eating enough protein to support muscle growth. And if you’re over 50 and a little wary of heavy weights? You can still get a good strength training workout with resistance bands, or even just using your body weight.

Get NEAT-er

No, we don’t mean you need to do more tidying up – or, actually we do! NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which simply means the calories you burn during your non-workout hours. NEAT plays a big role in your metabolism – in fact, research suggests that it could be responsible for up to 30% of your total daily calorie burn. So yes, we do want you to get up off the couch and move around more, even if it’s just to tidy up while listening to music, instead of watching TV. Try to target at least 1-2 sedentary habits a week, replacing them with more active ones (like taking a walk while you talk on the phone)

Focus on the hormones you have some control over

As we pointed out above, there are some inevitable hormonal changes that happen as you age. But there are certain other hormones that can be problematic for your waistline that you can do at least something about: cortisol (the stress hormone) and leptin (one of the hunger hormones). Doing calming, mind-body activities can actually help to regulate these hormones, so you might want to consider getting your “om” on!

Get your zzz’s 

Getting enough sleep is so important for so many reasons, including keeping your metabolism fired and your weight in check. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Lipid Research, restricting sleep for just several days alters how we metabolize fats and changes how satisfied we are by a meal. So make sure you’re getting around 7-9 hours a night!

There’s a lot we can’t control about getting older (hello, reading glasses), and it can often feel like your weight is one of them. And yes, while our bodies do change and our hormones do fluctuate as we age, you don’t necessarily have to go down without a fight. You can find ways to boost your metabolism and maintain a healthy weight – or even lose weight – over 50, you just need to incorporate the above eating and lifestyle changes. And let us know how your weight is changing as you age, and what you’re doing about it! 

Co-written by Joanna Bowling

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