Why is it hard to lose weight after 50?

Physical Health

Why is it hard to lose weight after 50?

Updated November 2023 | 3 min read
Expert contributor Caitlin Reid, dietitian and exercise physiologist

As you get older, you might notice that you find it harder to lose weight after 50. Your clothes may begin to feel tight and you might feel like it’s harder to exercise. Here’s what you can do to stay on top of your health.

There’s a belief that middle-age weight gain is inevitable, but with a few lifestyle changes, maintaining a healthy weight doesn’t have to be hard as you age, says dietitian and exercise physiologist Caitlin Reid.

Why is it so hard to lose weight?

We start to lose muscle mass in our 30s, but the biggest change doesn’t happen until after the age of 50 when we start to lose muscle mass at a rate of 1 to 2% per year. This reduction in muscle mass comes with an increase in fat mass, which explains why you might not actually put on weight.

But while the number on the scales may not change, your waistline can, with fat more likely to go straight to your waistline. It’s this ‘deep’ fat (stored further under the skin than subcutaneous ‘belly’ fat) that’s more closely associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Over time, these changes can make weight loss harder.

Changes in hormone levels and lower muscle mass can reduce the amount of energy you use at rest, also known as your basal metabolic rate. From the age of 20, your metabolism decreases by 1 to 2% per decade, meaning we have to eat less to maintain the same weight.

On top of this, as we get older, we tend to become more sedentary. Moving less means we burn less energy each day, but unfortunately we don't reduce the amount we eat to match the fewer kilojoules we burn. Over time, this imbalance not only makes weight loss harder, it can lead to unwanted weight gain.

Tips for losing weight after 50

Eat more protein

Ageing muscles become less receptive to protein, but you can counteract these age-related changes by boosting your daily protein and making sure each meal contains 20 to 30g of high-quality protein (proteins that contain all the essential amino acids the body doesn’t manufacture itself). These essential amino acids do things like repair body tissue and break down food.

For example, you’ll find 30g of protein in 110g of cooked red meat. This amount of protein will provide enough essential amino acids to help you maintain, and over time, increase muscle protein.

Non-meat eaters can get protein through foods like dairy, eggs, nuts, wheat, lentils, sunflower and sesame seeds, tofu, soy protein, spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, snow peas, kidney beans and watercress.

Do resistance training

If your exercise regimen doesn’t include resistance training, it’s time to start. As we lose muscle mass as we get older, doing weights becomes important to counter this muscle loss. Resistance training is the best way to increase and maintain muscle function. Ways to do this include free weights, weight machines, resistance bands and your body weight.

For the best results, train three to four times a week and make sure your program is designed to challenge you. That means increasing the resistance when it stops becoming hard. Known as progressive resistance training, increasing your exercise load will help you improve muscle mass as you age.

Move more

To prevent unhealthy weight gain, the Department of Health guidelines recommend getting up to 5 hours of moderate-intensity activity each week. For example, this might be brisk walking or doing gardening. Again, measure the intensity by how you feel.

Few of us realise the Australian exercise guidelines also say to sit less, because sitting for long periods of time is associated with increased health risks like developing type 2 diabetes. Reduce the amount of time you spend being sedentary and break up long periods of sitting by finding opportunities to move about whenever you can.

A helping hand with your nutrition

If you’re overweight and want to reset your eating habits, we can help. Eligible members can get free access to our Healthy Weight for Life programs to help you improve your quality of life. These programs are available to members who are overweight and have osteoarthritis* or are at risk of developing a chronic condition*.

We also know losing weight and keeping it off over a long period of time can be challenging. That’s why we're offering eligible HCF members access to the evidence-based CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet.

You can get a 20% discount on the cost of the 12 Week Program ($160 instead of $199) with eligible extras cover# or through the HCF Thank You loyalty program+.

If you have hospital cover, are aged 18 and over, have a Body Mass Index of 28 or above, and have multiple lifestyle risk factors, you may be eligible to join the Total Wellbeing Diet Premium Plus 16 Week Program for free**.

Before you make any changes to your diet or exercise regimen, speak to your doctor.

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* Eligibility criteria applies. For more information see hcf.com.au/hwfl

# Must have extras cover to receive the 20% discount through eligible extras offer and must have purchased the program on or after 1 July 2023. Depending on the level of your extras cover, HCF may reimburse the cost of the 12 Week Program up to your available Health Management Program limits. Some out-of-pocket costs may apply. Excludes Overseas Visitors Health Cover.

+ Eligibility criteria applies. You can access HCF Thank You offers after you’ve been a member for a week, and if your premiums are up to date. Excludes Ambulance Only and Overseas Visitors Health Cover. Offers and partners are subject to change without advance notice. See the HCF Thank You terms and conditions.

** Must have hospital cover, be aged 18 and over, have multiple lifestyle risk factors (eg. smoking, physical inactivity and poor nutrition) and a Body Mass Index of 28 or above. Excludes Ambulance Only, Accident Only and Overseas Visitors Health Cover.

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