Losing weight is already tough, but after 40 it can be a bit more challenging according to experts. Erin Mahoney, a personal trainer and fitness textbook author explains, “As we get older we lose muscle tone, or lean body mass. This is problematic because the more muscle tissue you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate is. Your metabolic rate determines how many calories you burn in a day. In the case of abdominal fat, multiple factors are at play. These include genetics (where you store your body fat) existing body fat percentage. While you can’t change your DNA, you can decrease body fat.” Eat This, Not That! Health talked to health and fitness experts who revealed how to get rid of stubborn abdominal weight after 40. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Robert Herbst a personal trainer, weight loss and wellness expert, and powerlifter explains, “As we hit 40, people start to lose muscle mass. This causes their metabolism to slow, so they burn fewer calories. Also, because they have less muscle, they tend to be less active, which causes them to burn even fewer calories and lose even more muscle, lowering their metabolism further. All this allows more of what is eaten to be stored as fat, much of which lands on the abdomen, which is a major storage point for fat.”
While many experts believe it’s difficult to lose weight as we get older, Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson, aka “The VibrantDoc,” a recognized leader in functional medicine and author of the new self-care book Vibrant: A Groundbreaking Program to Get Energized, Reverse Aging, and Glow has a different take. “There has been a long-held belief that it’s much harder to lose weight as you get older because your metabolism slows down, especially in middle age. It turns out that’s all wrong, and that’s great news if you need to lose weight in your 40s. A 2021 study published in Science looked at 6,500 people ranging from infants to the elderly and found that metabolism is highest in infants, slows down through age 20, then basically stays the same between the ages of 20 and 60, declining just a bit every year after that. That upends the conventional wisdom, but it’s great news if you’re 40 and you think you can’t do it because of factors beyond your control. It’s not your metabolism, it’s your lifestyle, and that’s something you can do something about.”
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Health expert and personal trainer Jennifer Cohen states, “Belly fat is actually the most dangerous type of fat — besides aesthetics, large waistlines are indicators of disease. Fighting belly fat is an 80 percent healthy diet. Reduce calories by filling yourself up with protein, vegetables, whole grains, and replacing bad habit snacks with good ones. If you have a sugar craving, replace your calorie laden latte with a Muscle Milk or zero sugar alternative that has protein that will satiate your craving. A trick I use is to sprinkle cinnamon in my morning coffee or oatmeal because the spice has been shown to help stabilize blood sugar. It also slows the rate at which food exits the stomach, which helps you feel fuller longer.
Dr. Stephenson says, “You don’t have to live a life of food deprivation after 40 just to keep your waistline. Obviously, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruit, and seafood are important for good health, but foods that aren’t necessarily healthy can be a part of your healthful diet—it’s only a matter of portion control. We know overeating sugar and refined carbs in particular contribute to belly fat, which is the dangerous visceral fat that gets packed around internal organs. But a few bites of a worth-it dessert, an ounce of daily dark chocolate, the occasional perfect baguette, can all be part of a healthful lifestyle. Just dial it back if you know it’s a treat. As long as most of your calories come from foods with more nutrition and less energy (calories), you can steadily lose that visceral belly fat which, thankfully, is the fat your body likes to burn off first.”
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According to Cohen, “Most people avoid fat when trying to lose weight but this is a mistake. It takes fat to burn fat. It’s sugar that gets you fat, not fat. Good fats include foods rich in Omega 3’s, like salmon, avocados and walnuts. Healthy foods that are high in fat keep you satiated throughout the day so you aren’t snacking or over eating.”
Herbst says, “To lose that belly fat, one must turn back the clock to raise their metabolism. First they should become more generally active. This will not only burn more calories, but will also help to slow the rate of muscle loss and even build more muscle. They should also do weight training. This raises your metabolism for 48-72 hours afterwards as your body burns calories to repair the muscle that was broken down during the exercise and build new muscle in anticipation of greater loads in the future. That new muscle will be metabolically active and will also burn more calories, even when at rest. One can also do other types of activity which specifically raise your metabolism such as interval training or high intensity training (HIIT), which create an oxygen debt. These will make you fitter and stronger and put you on the path to losing abdominal fat.”
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“Vitamin C also helps balance the cortisol spikes that happen to you under stress,” Cohen says. “Besides being a good way to counteract a cold, Vitamin C is essential for making carnitine, a compound used by the body to turn fat into fuel, making this vitamin your fat burning friend. Try adding Vitamin C rich foods into your diet as well like bell peppers, kale or kiwi fruits- which have more vitamin C than even an orange!”
Cohen explains, “Sure crunches will get you strong abdominal muscles, but with a full layer of fat on top, you will not see the results you really want. Instead of all those crunches, do exercises that engage multiple muscle groups and work your cardiovascular system. Try planking, where you hold yourself in a push-up position, resting your forearms on the ground. Try 3 or 4 sets of holding for 30 seconds each. Getting up and moving throughout the day by going for walks will also help.”
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Cohen says, “Sleep is one of the most important tools in our arsenal to fight fat. When your biorhythms are off, you end up eating more. When you’re tired you produce more ghrelin, which triggers cravings for sugar and other fat-building foods. Losing sleep can also alter your hormone production, affecting your cortisol levels that cause insulin sensitivity, prime reasons for belly fat! Getting about 7 hours of sleep a night is one of the best things you can do for your body shaping goals.”
Dr. Stephenson adds, “Sleep deprivation drives up ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and suppresses leptin, the satiety hormone that makes you feel full after eating, and also amplifies activity in the parts of your brain that make food rewarding. This can completely skew your normal appetite, leading to cravings for sugar and carbs and eating more than you intended to eat, and those are just the kind of foods that tend to accumulate around the belly.”
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As we get older we tend to gain weight in our midsection due to spikes in cortisols. Stress is one of the primary culprits for high levels of cortisol secretion. When this happens cortisol breaks down lean muscle—the type of tissue that burns calories most efficiently—and also holds on to fat storage in the abdominal region. As we age, we generally take on more life stress and the effects of that stress can be compounded by bad dieting habits we’ve learned. Studies actually show that the stress caused by dieting can increase cortisol levels, making no change in belly fat even with calorie restriction. Most people under emotional strain either alternate holding their breath with short breaths, or take rapid shallow breaths. After you become aware of your own breathing, consciously relax your belly and slow down the breathing and tell yourself ‘slow down.’ This works best if you focus on slowing down the exhalation rather than your inhalation. It sounds like a simple tool but can really make a big difference.” And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.