There are all types of myths regarding aging and weight loss ranging from the dreaded “freshman 15” to the saying, “If only I could eat the way I used to when I was 20.” This isn’t only done with dieting; many of my clients have said, “If only I had youth on my side again.” Which brings us to the question: does age hinder weight loss and body transformation?
The short answer? Yes, of course it does. However, the long answer is more complex and detailed.
I could show you pictures and footage of senior citizens performing spectacular feats of strength and flexibility and who possess age defying looks. These days time is less of the enemy than it used to be for those so initiated, educated, and supplied. There is the 101 year old cowgirl who has incredible flexibility and strength. There are the 80 year old bodybuilders and the 99 year old runners outperforming 22 year old couch potatoes.
However, showing you some guy who is 70 years old that can deadlift 400 pounds isn’t going to help you deadlift at 70, if you don’t understand why he is able to do it. Sure, I can show you a 55 year old client who is wearing a bikini for the first time in her life (and looking damn good I might add), but is it going to help you to look at those pictures? Well, maybe it is a little fun.
Ultimately, what those people have on their side is education and emotional vitality. I am going to provide that education to you so you can be strong and smoking in your 70s and beyond.
Body Interest and Dividends
If you know anything about retirement and investing, you know the earlier you start the better. If you start putting money away for retirement in your 20s, it can potentially make it a lot easier to retire early. Start in your mid 30s and an early retirement might be a hard thing to pull off.
Time is the true player. We can’t change it or defy it, we can’t cheat it or negotiate with it. All we can do is play the game better and make the most of it. And even when you realize that, there is the genetic card, the money card, the environment card…I think you get the picture.
Your return is going to depend on your investment. If you are 45 and think you can make up for all those years of neglect or deterioration, you can’t. You can’t make up for it, but you can use it as a tremendously significant factor in your equation. You can create impressive advances. It is never too late to start, but you have to be realistic about where you are starting.
Age and Weight
It is common that as we age, we also gain weight. This can be for a variety of factors including lifestyle and physical adaption; it’s rarely due to physical health. Generally, weight gain stabilizes at its highest around 50 years of age. From there, weight is either lost or maintained until around 70 years of age.
Why do we gain weight?
The number one reason for weight gain as we age is due to a decrease of lifestyle activity/exercise and an increase of food. In short, we move less and eat more. Non-exercise adaptive thermogenesis (NEAT) decreases dramatically throughout every decade in the general population. As the years go by, movement plays less of an important role in our social activity and job earnings.
Most weight gain is not dramatic; it doesn’t happen in quick spurts. More often it comes on slowly over time. Studies and surveys constantly show overweight and obese adults believe themselves to be thinner than they are. This is easy to achieve when the 10 pound weight gain happens over the course of a year. In seven to eight years, it can easily reach 60-70 pounds due to adjusting to higher scale numbers or not being aware of your weight at all.
Does age affect the ease of weight loss?
As I stated earlier, why we gain weight (or lose it) as a population is due to many various factors. As we age, there are more and more of these factors that impact the gains or losses of our later years. Epidemiological research has tried to take into account as many variables as possible: for instance, emotional and physical problems like the loss of a spouse, illness, diet changes for health, etc. One such study looked at a variety of factors related to reasons beyond gain or loss and how it trended overall. The outcome showed as age increased, weight decreased.
Other studies point to the “anorexia of aging” phenomenon in which the take home point is, toward the closing of our existence, weight loss is “easy” to come by in a physical sense. Why?
Often you hear, “Older people can’t lose weight due to their hormones.” That is a pretty vague statement and makes little sense. To thoroughly understand the role of aging on weight loss and hormones, you have to look at the crucial players in weight loss at any age. As I said, the players of the game don’t change (nor does their position), but their effectiveness can be hindered. Does it have to be that way? Is this only because you mistreated your body in the past? Can it be reversed to a point?
A 2010 study titled, “Changes in food intake and its relationship to weight loss during advanced age,” looked at leptin, neuropeptide Y, GABA, and CCK and their relationship to satiation and role in weight loss. The conclusion showed satiation is better, not worse after your 30s. So, it could be speculated that for the average population if you aren’t “fat” by the age of 40, chances are you will never be (baring disease or disorder) because satiation and automatic caloric intake decrease naturally over the years.
In regard to thyroid hormones, even in the presence of true hypothyroidism, problems with weight loss should be of little issue with the proper diet and medication. The American Thyroid Association states, “…the decrease in BMR due to hypothyroidism is usually much less dramatic than the marked increase seen in hyperthyroidism, leading to more modest alterations in weight due to the under-active thyroid. The cause of the weight gain in hypothyroid individuals is also complex, and not always related to excess fat accumulation. Most of the extra weight gained in hypothyroid individuals is due to excess accumulation of salt and water. Massive weight gain is rarely associated with hypothyroidism. In general, 5-10 pounds of body weight may be attributable to the thyroid.”
When we look at the role of thyroid hormones, they only play a part in the weight loss game and should not be viewed as the ultimate weight loss cure (or problem). Over time we also see that decreases in function vary, as do other health issues.
Hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and androgen aren’t likely to impede weight loss with age, but will alter the ease of body recomposition and appearance. Meaning, you can lose weight with low test or high estrogen, but your appearance being optimal may be another story. This is why it’s necessary to incorporate training, specifically resistance based training as you age. Diet and supplementation could also play a small role. The next level would be hormone replacement, but in general I prefer to look at researched natural solutions.
Aging and Training
The ability to maintain muscle and performance ability is theorized to be in large part due to the number of motor units one possesses. It is said that 1% of motor units are lost after your 30s and the loss rate can increase after your 60s in the average population. So the question is—can the rate of motor unit loss be deterred by physical activity? The answer seems to be yes. While most research has been done in rats, this study shows, “These results demonstrate that lifelong high-intensity physical activity could potentially mitigate the loss of MU associated with aging well into the seventh decade of life.”
Even in untrained subjects, there is a benefit to “starting late.” This 2007 Buck Institute study shows that untrained elderly people saw a dramatic increase in strength in a short period of time with only a two day per week program.
Adding one more log to the fire, age leads to a decrease of bone strength; but it can be halted or possibly even reversed on small levels with resistance training.
One of the most common age-related questions I get is about training progression in those over the age of 40. We know from research that the intensity of injury increases with age and with it comes slower healing times. Again, the decrease of this is going to depend on a lot of factors as discussed above. That being said, there is a lot of data to suggest a particular focus on quality over quantity, specifically with a heavy load. There is also an argument for this being the way all ages should train but that is another conversation. Finally, you have to take into account the role of nutrition and supplementation on recovery.
To put it simply, people over the age of 50 can train the same way people under the age of 50 can train, but with less frequency and longer recovery times in general. Younger people can do squats, deadlifts, push-ups, jumps, and presses to their hearts content. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean the movements are right for you yet. The same rules apply and if you push too hard or injure yourself, you will pay for it longer. That being said, recovery in trained individuals is markedly better than in those who are untrained.
In a higher age bracket, flexibility and mobility can decrease; the same is true for strength. Again, you have to play your cards right, but it doesn’t mean you have to be fearful. Walk before you run, in a matter of speaking.
The big problem comes because there are 20 year olds who aren’t capable of doing certain heavy load movements. At the age of 25, screwing up may not mean so much. But at 50, screwing up may put you out of commission for a while. A more intelligent based training system is going to be the better route to take. I will be discussing programming for this in a later article called “The Jacked-Up Program.” Basically, it will be a program anyone can do regardless of age with help from me and other experts in the industry. Stay tuned for that.
From a Vanity Standpoint
If you didn’t get the health/looks connection, then take the following for a spin. As age increases, collagen and skin elasticity decreases, skin tone changes, marks and scars increase as do veins.
What can you do to battle that? Maintain healthy circulation and muscle base. There is nothing like sagging discolored skin over no muscle. This may become unavoidable in your 70s, but there is no reason for it in your 40s. Training also increases circulation and can improve your skin tone and appearance of inflammation/marked definition.
Lastly, The Role of Perceived Vitality
I believe heavily in the role of perceived vitality and extending your longevity. There is some research that looks at this, like Rowe and Kahn’s 2002 study in combination with physical activity. In short, it is their belief that the combination of physical and spiritual vitality is the key to a long-term life. It may seem like an obvious conclusion but the diamond is in the details.
In most research, we see that movement continues to slow as age decreases, not as much due to illness or physical dysfunction, but by decreasing social behavior. As the Buck study points out, untrained individuals achieved incredible strength gains in a short period and literally reversed time with resistance training. There is a fountain of youth if you open up your mind to it.
It may seem like an odd parallel, but this is the reason I like television shows like Dancing with the Stars or seemingly cheesy community social activities. While you still need to push things at a proper pace, you can push them. I know people in their 50s denouncing almost all physical activity because they think they can’t do it anymore, when physical activity is just what they need. I don’t want anyone to squander their life like this, and it begs the question, “Are you just waiting to die?”
- The younger you start, the better chance you have at making impressive strides. Don’t put off maintaining or increasing your health.
- The same problems you could have in your 20s can exist in your 60s. Weight loss related health issues are going to be the same as age increase. In fact, some things could be easier as you get older.
- Decreased movement is the main problem of weight loss difficulty at any age, but makes it especially difficult in your later years. Small calorie burn with a moderate diet = lackluster results. Increase your activity.
- Resistance training is a true fountain of youth.
- Weight loss doesn’t seem to be largely affected by age but body composition does. As you age, there is no room for subpar dieting and training. Specificity to your body and needs are key.
- The rules are still the rules at any age regarding physiology, hormones, and thermodynamics. However, your personal level of strength in these areas can be degraded due to health issues. This can have nothing to do with aging.
- Attention to detail and focusing on the “simple” things are your best lines of defense towards aging and body composition. This includes (but is not limited to) sleep, vitamins and exercise, and diet variety.
- As we age, sometimes things no longer work to their optimal level. Keep a regular check on your physical status. You can use this article as a terrific starting point.
- It is never too late to change your body and life. As you can see, it is a pretty miraculous thing. Don’t check out before you actually check out.
- Don’t look at aging as an excuse anymore. Instead, look at it from a technical standpoint to make the smartest decisions you can regarding your training and diet programs.
- I hate to use such an unoriginal quote, but it is from one of the greatest movies of all time and it still rings true: “Get busy living or get busy dying.”