Love to get slim, feel lean and stay strong throughout your 40s, 50s and 60s? Our experts have a plan tailored to suit your stage of life…
Call it a muffin top, bloated tummy or, to get medical, abdominal adiposity, the fact is, even if you’re only a little overweight, those extra kilos have an infuriating tendency to settle around the middle. It’s not just bad for morale, but there are a number of health reasons why you might want to do something about it, too. “Excess abdominal fat reflects visceral fat – that’s fat laid down around the major organs, which has been linked with a host of health problems,” explains obesity expert Professor Tony Leeds. The good news is, whatever your age, you can still lose the bulge and rediscover a slimmer you with our easy flat-tum tactics.
This is the decade when you start to notice your tummy isn’t as firm as it used to be.
Why? “As perimenopause kicks in, our oestrogen levels start to fall, and fat is redistributed from the hips and thighs to the tummy,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville, a nutritionist with a special interest in women’s health.
Metabolism The rate at which your body burns food also declines every decade – meaning you need to eat less and exercise more the older you get.
High levels of blood sugar increase insulin, which causes fat to gather around the middle. Veggie protein sources – think pulses, quinoa, nuts and seeds – are best for stabilising blood sugar, as too much animal protein (meat and cheese) can make your body acidic, leaching calcium from bones.
Make Your Heart Race
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is great exercise because it triggers the release of hormones that encourage kilojoule burning, explains Professor Jamie Timmons, a leading expert on HIIT. It’s also quick: warm up, then work out as hard as you can for 60 seconds. Rest for a minute, and repeat up to five times. Do it three times a week. Not for you? Running, power walking, cycling or dancing for 30 minutes, five days a week, will help to reduce tum fat, but these aren’t quite as effective, taking longer to produce results.
Weight training – or resistance training – helps keep muscle tone and slows muscle loss. Muscle is more ‘metabolically active’ than fat, so the more you have, the more fat you burn. Two to three 30-minute weights sessions a week will do the trick.
Fat-Tum Health Risks
Low Bone Density
A fat tum at this stage may increase your risk for osteoporosis later. Why? “Increased levels of visceral fat are associated with decreased growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), both of which are important for healthy bones,” says Professor Leeds.
Easy Weight Training
When working with weights, aim for two or three sets of eight to 12 repetitions. Weights should be heavy enough that you struggle with the last few reps. Resistance bands, kettle bells or exercises that use body weight, such as Pilates, yoga or pole dancing, are all excellent, too.
This is the decade when our tums lose tone and become what experts describe as ‘doughy’.
Why? Falling oestrogen levels are to blame, plus the fact that muscle continues to be lost. The problem is, all of this happens very gradually, so change creeps up on us. Unless you cut kilojoules and increase activity, the fat piles on, and guess where most of it goes? “Straight to your middle,” says Dr Glenville. Broken nights caused by hot flushes and night sweats don’t help, either. Studies show that sleeping less than seven hours a night can increase your waist. This is because missing out on sleep can disrupt leptin – the hormone that switches off hunger.
Wipe Out White
“Foods such as white sugar, white bread, pastries and biscuits have a high glycaemic index (GI) – they cause blood sugar to soar, triggering the release of tummy unfriendly insulin,” says Dr Glenville. Eat slow-release veg, like spinach, kale, broccoli and cucumber, and increase your intake of lean protein – chicken, fish and pulses. Women need 46g a day post 50.
After poor sleep, your body craves sugar, fat and caffeine. These pile on tummy fat and only boost energy levels temporarily, before a crashing low. Unwinding, regulating the room temperature and avoiding distractions can help you sleep.
Keep up HIIT training twice a week with two resistance workouts to keep your muscles strong, or do moderate aerobic exercise five times a week.
Fat-Tum Health Risks
Waist circumference is a predictor of the risk of insulin resistance (IR) – when your body makes but can’t use insulin – after 50. And IR goes hand in hand with high blood pressure and high levels of harmful blood fats, heralding type-2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
The US-based Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), conducted in 2003, shows that abdominal fat increases hot-flush risk.
Annoyingly, you may notice your tum appears to stick out more around this age.
Why? Decreasing bone density can lead to a small, but gradual, loss of height, so we have less body length to accommodate our tummies. Better news is that oestrogen levels should have stabilised now, but continued loss of muscle can slow metabolism, making it harder to shift that stubborn tummy fat.
Look for opportunities for movement of any sort in your daily life, even if it’s standing up when you chat on the phone, or walking to the photocopier. There’s a name for this – non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). It describes the energy expended for everything we do that isn’t sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise, and has been shown to make quite a substantial difference to our metabolism.
Take up HIIT (see 40s) twice a week. “HIIT is for anyone from 18 to 70,” says Professor Timmons. It’s tailored to each person’s fitness level. “Twenty seconds of maximal effort is only your maximum, not some super-human feat.” Hate exercise? Take a dance class or find a friend to go on a 30-minute brisk walk with you, five times a week.
Resistance training is vital to help keep bones strong and counteract muscle loss. Try not to reach for lighter dumb-bells and barbells – research shows that resistance training dramatically improves strength and muscle power. And remember: the more muscle you have, the more fat you burn.
Snack On Protein
Our bodies get less efficient at making muscle as we age. Boost the muscle-building process: add a protein snack between meals, such as nuts.
Fat-Tum Health Risks
Tummy fat is linked to higher levels of inflammatory chemicals. And that’s bad news. “Virtually all the diseases that strike in mid-to-later life – heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and even dementia – are diseases of inflammation,” explains Professor Leeds.
Those inflammatory chemicals are also a major culprit in causing joint pain, so slimming down can help that, too.
The Stress Connection
As part of our ‘fight or flight’ response, the stress hormone cortisol triggers the conversion of fats and glucose into the energy you need to face perceived danger. These days, triggers differ – like deadlines, or running late for a meeting – so instead of getting used, fats and glucose convert back into fat around the middle. Yoga lowers stress to keep cortisol at bay.
By Health Writer, Belinda Dos Santos