Have you experienced a change in your body composition as you’ve got older? Were you once able to eat anything you wanted without putting on weight but now find yourself struggling to fit into all your favourite clothes? Do you blame your hormones? Have you resigned yourself to “middle-aged spread”, seeing it as an inevitable depressing fact of life?
Countless men and women on reaching their thirties, forties and beyond become frustrated at the appearance and development of additional fat. It tends to be particularly prevalent around the abdominal area and it is frequently referred to as their “beer gut”, “spare tyre” or “muffin top”. What is the reason for this change in body composition? Can you really blame it on the hormones? This blog aims to shed some light in the facts about hormonal weight gain as we age and share some tips to help you deal with it.
Hormones are responsible for ensuring that your body gets what it needs in order to function properly and remain healthy. They are the chemical messengers between cells and organs that regulate all your bodily functions. Growth, sexual development, mood, how well we sleep, how we manage stress and how our body breaks down food are all controlled by our hormones. When properly balanced, hormones enable us to thrive but imbalances can lead to serious health issues. Individuals at any age can experience imbalances in hormones, but as we get older there are some inevitable changes.
The sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone are finely balanced in healthy individuals of both sexes. As we age the balance between these three sex hormones shifts.
In women, progestrone (essential for fertility), starts to decline as they reach their mid thirties, resulting in oestrogen dominance. Oestrogen levels continue to drop as menopause approaches and as progesterone drops even more rapidly at this stage, further oestrogen dominance results.
When men reach their 40’s it is progesterone, used to produce testosterone and cortisone, that declines. This results in their oestrogen levels also becoming dominant.
It is generally accepted that too much oestrogen circulating in the body increases body fat. Doctors do not yet know how this happens but some believe oestrogen reduces the body’s ability to process and metabolise fatty acids after a meal which makes it more likely to remain in your system and be deposited in fat stores. Fatty tissue produces oestrogen which makes the body more efficient at storing fat. Oestrogen also inhibits the body’s ability to use fat stores effectively for energy.
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It is an adrenal hormone that in the face of real or imaginary danger rises to helps you run faster, see further, hear better and pump fuel into your bloodstream for quick energy. In this quest to help us survive, it shuts down digestion and slows the metabolism.
Midlife can be a time of common stressful events, with many facing increased demands at work, responsibilities as parents or spouses, family illnesses and deaths, all of which can take their toll on the body.
Short-term stress is fine but prolonged stress and high levels of cortisol cause high blood sugar, increased belly fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and muscle loss.
So it IS the hormones then?!
Evidence does suggest hormones are likely to play a factor in weight gain as you age but before you resign yourself to an ever expanding waistline, there are some steps you can take to counteract the these effects:-
i) Reduce Your Stress. Stress is often caused by worry, fear and negative thoughts and frequently it isn’t a reality. Recognise when you’re having negative thoughts and stop yourself from dwelling on them.
Meditation, yoga and Pilates can help to still the mind. Deep breathing exercises, having a sauna or taking a relaxing bath can also help. Try finding what works best for you.
ii) Exercise. As we get older many of us become less active. Increasing activity levels can therefore help to control weight gains.
iii) Diet. Middle age and beyond can be a time when our diets are not prioritised. Our lifestyles can lead to snacking, take aways, eating out, social drinking, a reliance on convenience food, all of which, if not controlled, can lead to additional weight gain. Be more mindful and honest about what you are consuming.
iv) Resistance Training. As we age hormones cause a reduction in our muscle mass. Muscle is highly active tissue that burns a lot of energy so losing muscle can make weight gain more likely. Adding some kind of resistance training to your exercise programme can help maintain and build muscle mass which in turn can help with weight management.