Why It's Harder to Lose Weight After 50 and What To Do About It

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Weighty Matters

As one’s age creeps up, sometimes the tally on the scale does, as well. There are a number of reasons why it can be harder to lose weight as you get older — from activity level to diet — but there are also steps to take that can help you maintain a healthy weight. Read on for details.


Related: Don't Ever Fall for These Weight Loss Gimmicks

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Reason: Calorie Needs Change

As you age, you don’t need to consume as many calories. After all, no one’s growing like a teenage boy anymore. As reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Older adults generally have lower calorie needs, but similar or even increased nutrient needs compared to younger adults.” It’s a fine line to balance.

Related: Secrets for Eating Healthy on a Budget

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Action: Adjust your diet

Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy, says the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at HHS, since this adjustment “improves diet quality — as does cutting down on added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.”

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Reason: Hormones Have an Impact

Hormone levels change as one ages, which can make it harder to lose (or maintain) weight. Hormones can impact blood-sugar levels and weight, along with fat percentages, muscle mass and countless other functions. From estrogen to testosterone, thyroid hormones to cortisol, “Certain hormone imbalances can cause weight gain,” according to the Cleveland Clinic.


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Action: Check It All Out

If you notice new conditions or symptoms that persist, a visit with your healthcare provider may be in order. “Healthcare providers typically order blood tests to check hormone levels since your endocrine glands release hormones directly into your bloodstream,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. Depending on the specifics, it continues, “Aside from medical treatment, your provider may recommend certain lifestyle changes to help manage a hormonal imbalance, such as managing your stress levels and getting routine exercise.”

Related: 16 Health Problems You're Not Getting Help For — But Should

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Reason: Metabolism Slows

Being able to eat whatever you want and not gain weight is a dream. For the young, it’s often a reality. Metabolism (converting food into energy) changes as the body ages, so the rate at which calories are burned will not keep up that frenetic pace. A study from Duke University, though, noted that it’s a gradual change: “The data suggest that our metabolisms don’t really start to decline again until after age 60. The slowdown is gradual, only 0.7% a year. But a person in their 90s needs 26% fewer calories each day than someone in midlife.” 

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Action: Boost It!

There are several ways to boost your metabolism even as you age. According to Northwest Community Healthcare, which has served the Chicago area since 1959, strength training is key: “In the past, it was all cardio, cardio, cardio. But increasing your muscle mass helps you burn more calories at rest, and therefore, increases your metabolism.” The organization also recommends eating breakfast to start your day well-fueled and, overall, eating more lean protein such as fish, chicken, eggs, and tofu.

Conscious sportsman measuring his biceps size

Reason: Muscle Loss Increases

We lose muscle mass as we age, according to a review article in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. “Muscle mass decreases approximately 3 to 8% per decade after the age of 30 and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60.” This can increase, the article adds, the risk of falls and vulnerability to injury, while also leading to an increase in fat mass and a change in the body’s composition.


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Action: Built It Back

Get those weights out. “Exercise training and proper nutrition can have dramatic effects on muscle mass and strength. An optimal intervention program may include an exercise-training schedule that incorporates both resistance and aerobic exercise with adequate intake of total calories and protein,” according to the review article, funded in part by the National Institute on Aging. 


Related: 20 Essential Exercises for Older Adults

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Reason: Career Is in High Gear

Once you’re in your 50s, your career is usually well-defined and often filled with demanding responsibilities. You may work longer hours as a manager/supervisor and consequently, pay less attention to what you’re eating or how often you’re taking a much-needed break from your desk. As the National Library of Medicine notes, “Many of our jobs have become more sedentary, with long days sitting at a desk.” For those who have long commutes, that also adds to the lack of activity.

Mature businesswoman walking on footpath in city

Action: Make Work ‘Work’ for You

As the National Library of Medicine notes, “Less than 20% of Americans have physically active jobs. It can be challenging to fit physical activity into your busy workday.” Among its suggestions — get up and move around at least once an hour, stand while talking on the phone, take the stairs instead of the elevator (if you’re in an office setting) or use lunch or break times for a quick walk.

Mature woman helping elderly mother with paperwork

Reason: Family Obligations Change

Kids, grandkids, caring for an aging parent … the cares and responsibilities of adults certainly do change with age. It’s no longer so easy to fit in a session at the gym, or meet a friend for an energetic walk when you have to pick up groceries for your ailing mother or be home to prepare a meal for the family. Skipping meals (no breakfast to get an early start or skipping lunch to run an errand) is also a pitfall.

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Action: Review Priorities

No one should feel overwhelmed by daily tasks. As the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota shares, “If you feel busy or overwhelmed, it means that you are doing things wrong; it reflects you have many uncompleted tasks, you are losing control over them and you are not being able to manage your priorities. If this happens to you, [it's] time to … sit down, set your priorities, review your process and start again.” Healthy choices will follow.

Worried senior man sitting alone in his home

Reason: Stress Ramps Up

As one ages, stress can become a constant companion with worries focusing on retirement and aging parents, kids making their own way and, perhaps most sobering, facing one’s own mortality. Psychology Today has reported that chronic stress can make losing weight more difficult.


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Action: Let It Go…

The Mayo Clinic offers advice, especially when stress is present (and often sparked by an out-of-kilter work-life balance): “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help you manage stress.” Caring for one’s self can range from eating well and ensuring proper physical activity to making time to relax (with favorite hobbies) to volunteering, which helps build a connection to community.

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Senior Black Man Sleeping and Waking Up

Action: Get Some Zzzzs

Getting enough sleep contributes to maintaining a healthy weight, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at HHS. Tweaking daytime habits (from getting time outdoors to limiting caffeine later in the day), while also establishing a proper environment at night (from ensuring the bedroom is dark to banning electronic devices to creating a bedtime routine) can help you get proper rest.  

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Reason: Endurance / Stamina May Drop

It’s not your imagination that you can’t do some things as easily as you used to, as endurance and stamina can decline as one ages. “So many physical abilities decline with normal aging, including strength, swiftness, and stamina,” according to a post from Harvard Health Publishing by Dr. Andrew E. Budson. 

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Action: Do More, Not Less

Despite what you might think, you don’t have to slow down, according to the Harvard Health Publishing post. “It turns out that one of the most important causes of reduced strength and coordination with aging is simply reduced levels of physical activity. There is a myth in our society that it is fine to do progressively less exercise the older you get. The truth is just the opposite.” And such activity, from brisk walking to swimming to aerobics, can only aid your weight-loss efforts.  

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Reason: Vanity Wanes

Remember when you wouldn’t leave the house without lipstick, earrings, and far-from-baggy pants? Well, as we age, many of us, um, lower our standards. A quick run to the deli in pajama pants, hair in a headband, is suddenly okay. Well, that same relaxing of pride in one’s appearance can really lead to mindless snacking, skipping your morning walk or general ennui. Psychology Today has noted that self-care, from beauty routines to health regimens, “can make us feel better about ourselves as we age.”

Senior Black Politician

Action: Take Pride

This one may be a personal choice, but as the blog Chic At Any Age notes, it’s all part of a healthy outlook to continue the good fight — “Let us take pride in our appearance, enhance our older faces with flattering makeup and choose to wear clothes we love.” That extends to maintaining a healthy weight and making smart choices when it comes to exercise, nutrition and more.

Checking the bill

Reason: Economics May Play a Part

A trip to the grocery store this year has no doubt yielded more than one gasp. Rising prices across the board have impacted the purchase plans of many consumers. And that may impact how successfully you lose weight. As Tufts Now from Tufts University in Massachusetts, has reported, “For many people around the world, the high cost of healthy foods is an obstacle. What’s cheap to grow and distribute is starchy grains and root crops, vegetable oil, and a few other basic foods that provide calories to satisfy short-term needs. Production and distribution is more expensive for fruits and vegetables, eggs and dairy, or other components of a healthy diet, which poor people cannot afford.”

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Action: Make Your Budget Work

No matter your budget, healthy eating can be within reach. Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s suggestions for saving at the grocery store range from planning meals in advance (to avoid impulse buys) to considering meatless meals to purchasing foods and snacks that are filling.  

Mature man massaging his painful knee.

Reason: Mobility Issues

It’s tough to follow an exercise plan if your mobility is impaired. Nestlé Health Science, a division of the worldwide food and beverage company, notes that “age-related loss of muscle may decrease mobility … and it can become more prominent from the age of 50 onwards.”

Senior Black Man Riding Bike on Trail

Action: Keep Exercising

Movement is key to a healthy lifestyle, so making sure you are able to exercise properly is key. As the National Institute on Aging notes, “A lack of physical activity or exercise can also make it more likely that a person will experience loss of mobility as they age. The increasing incidence of sedentarism (sitting too much) is a growing health concern: Too many older adults don’t get enough physical activity and spend too much time sitting daily.” Move it! 

Senior Mexican Woman Drinking Water

Reason: Fluid Intake Ignored

Being — and staying — hydrated is integral to a healthy lifestyle, and it’s not just during the scorching days of summer. A well-hydrated body is one that is able to complete its functions in a healthy manner. As the National Council on Aging notes, “Water is essential to almost all bodily functions, from lubricating our joints to pumping blood to our heart.” And, as further reported by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, “Science suggests that water can help with weight loss in a variety of ways. It may suppress your appetite, boost your metabolism, and make exercise easier and more efficient, all of which could contribute to results on the scale.”

Mature adult man drinking water

Action: Monitor Your Fluids

Each person’s needs may differ, though the “eight glasses of water a day” mantra remains a good rule of thumb, according to the National Council on Aging. It’s important to stay hydrated even if you don’t feel thirsty, as the organization notes thirst tends to diminish with age. “This means that even when your body is craving fluids, you might not be aware of it — and you may drink less than you need to stay healthy.” The body may also regulate temperature differently, so there can be an increased risk of dehydration during exercise or other activity.

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Reason: Support Systems Wane

As we juggle our “big-picture” worries (economics, pandemic, global warming, etc.) with our day-to-day obligations, we can begin to feel more isolated, especially as we age. We no longer have roommates, classmates or happy-hour buddies to commiserate with. For some, the lack of a steady support system can lead to unhealthy choices (overeating, skipping exercises) that impact our basic health. According to a study in the journal Medicine, “Social support has been recognized as an important social determinant of health because it assists individuals in reaching their physical and emotional needs, and it reduces the effects of stressful events on their quality of life.”

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Action: Don’t Go It Alone

To avoid such feelings of isolation, The Mayo Clinic notes that it’s key to, “Surround yourself with friends and loved ones who support your efforts to eat a healthy diet and increase your physical activity. Better yet, team up and make the lifestyle changes together.”