Are you a professional athlete/fitness trainer/fitness fanatic who:

  • Works out like crazy for hours at a time?
  • Works out for 6 days a week without fail?
  • Takes a lot of supplements including protein, creatinine, BCAAs, fat burners, and steroids? (I mention steroid here because no matter what they tell you, all body-builders and fitness models take steroids to grow their muscles)
  • Counts every calorie?
  • Cycles her macros? (Don’t ask what it means. It is complicated)
  • Is able to avoid all junk food?
  • Doesn’t enjoy a few drinks now and then?

5 ways to beat the dreaded middle age spread

If you haven’t answered YES to most of the questions, then, as you enter your late thirties and early forties, you are most likely to fall victim of the dreaded Middle Age Spread.

And unfortunately, the weight gain is likely to be in your biggest problem areas – your waist and/or your hips.

Top 5 Ways to beat the dreaded middle age spread

But fear not. Help is at hand.

Some easy to implement and some which require quite a bit of discipline and determination. But we all know that nothing good comes easy and putting in that extra effort can make the difference between reaching your goals and failing. Sometimes all we need to be the rockstar of our own lives is a little Tough Love.

So, without further ado, here are my top tips to prevent middle age spread:

1. Eat Less

5 ways to beat the dreaded middle age spread

Like I promised, tough love first. And I hate to be the one to say it, but you need to eat less than you did in your twenties.

Why?

Because your metabolism at rest slows down as you get older. Metabolism at rest is the amount of energy you need to just be alive, the amount of energy you need for functions like digesting, breathing, maintaining your muscle mass etc.

And due to loss of muscle mass that starts in your twenties, your body needs less energy for survival and maintenance as you get older. Is there a number? Yes. You need approximately 300 calories less per day than you did in your 20s.

In addition, oestrogen levels start decreasing and this can cause insulin sensitivity which makes it harder for your body to regulate blood sugar levels.

Other than weight loss, calorie restriction is the only proven method to increase longevity and improve health as we grow older. Data collected from members of  the Calorie Restriction Society, who have imposed on themselves a regimen of extreme calorie restriction provides evidence that calorie restriction not only make you lean and mean but leads to decreased metabolic and hormonal risk factors for  various diseases like diabetes, Cardiovascular disease, stroke cancer and vascular dementia.

So, cut down on your overall calorie intake but make sure that you do not compromise on essential nutrients. If your intake of essential nutrients is inadequate, you will become malnourished which will cause a host of other problems. Avoid refined carbohydrates and all products made from them, ensure that you are not having too much fat and sugar, and definitely restrict junk food as much as possible. (Yep, I am talking about baddies like chips, fizzy drinks, packaged fruit drinks, samosas, deep fried items etc).

Make sure your diet contains plenty of vegetables rich in fibre, and include low glycemic index foods with a wide variety of phytochemicals which may improve metabolic health.

Approximately how many calories do you need?

If you are a woman wanting to lose weight, you should have around 1200 calories a day.

And to make your life easier, you can download a 1 Day vegetarian and non-vegetarian meal plan at the bottom of this article.

The number of equivalent calories for men is around 1600 calories.

2. Eat More

This is the good part. You can eat more of foods that will improve your health and vitality. These are nutrient dense foods, foods that provide lots of nutrients with fewer calories. Make sure you have enough of these:

Fruits and vegetables – Fruits are vegetables are rich in anti-oxidants, fibre and water. Include coloured fruits and vegetables like carrots, tomato, spinach, other green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli (if you suffer from thyroid problems, cruciferous vegetables are not recommended), berries, apples, beans, orange etc.

Tip – While fruits are good for health, many of them have high sugar content, so always have them in moderation.

5 ways to beat the dreaded middle age spread

Protein – It is a vital nutrient, especially in the Indian context. Your metabolism slows down as you age and one of the major reasons for the slow metabolism is the fact that you start losing muscle mass starting in your 20s. And since muscles are made up mostly of protein, it is imperative to ensure that your diet contains adequate protein.

Research has shown that up to 90% of Indians have protein deficient diets so make sure that you are having enough proteins to maintain and even grow more muscles.

Daily protein requirement for an average person is 0.8-1.2 gm protein/kg body weight.

Sources: Chicken, eggs, fish, all kinds of beans, nuts, yoghurt, paneer, rajmah, dals, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, mushroom, capsicum etc

Complex carbohydrates – As I mentioned earlier cut down on all refined carbohydrates and switch to complex carbohydrates instead. This means brown rice instead of white rice, cutting out foods like biscuits and cookies and having more of foods like beans, whole wheat or multigrain atta.

Healthy fats – Healthy fats are essential for many functions but keep in mind that all fats have high calorie density. So keep track of your fat intake and ensure that you do not overdo it.

3. Drink plenty of water

5 ways to beat the dreaded middle age spread

I cannot stress enough the importance of drinking plenty of water. Each cell of the body is made up to 70% water and drinking enough water will help keep your metabolism high.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that drinking 17 ounces (500 ml) of water increases metabolism by 30% in healthy adults.

And you know how important keeping your metabolism up is, right? If you don’t remember, go back to point No. 1

The effect can be seen as early as in 10 minutes but maximum increase in metabolism is seen after 30-40 minutes of drinking water.

Other than the benefits related to metabolism, adequate water intake, especially drinking water just before a meal can reduce the total number of calories you consume. That’s a win-win right there.

How much water do you need? A good rule of thumb is 8 glasses a day. This amounts to about 2 litres of water a day and it covers the daily water requirement for most people.

4. Reduce Stress

5 ways to beat the dreaded middle age spread

Chronic stress can contribute to middle aged spread. When you feel stressed, initially you may lose your appetite and lose weight but long term stress boosts your hunger and makes you put on weight.

When you are stressed, your body releases the hormone, cortisol(link to Wikipedia) which increases the level of insulin in your body. Increased insulin reduces your blood sugar level and causes you to crave foods rich in sugar, salt and unhealthy fats such as cookies, pastries and chips.

While you may not be able to eliminate all stressors from your life, you can follow some practises to reduce the impact of stress on your health. My top stress busting tips include:

  • Yoga and Meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Any form of exercise
  • A walk in the park or nature
  • Listening to music, reading

Carving out some me-time where you do something you like just for the pleasure of it, be it reading, listening to music, dancing, also helps to reduce stress levels.

Tip – Carving out some me-time is especially important for women as we are likely to put ourselves last and self-care comes at the end of our list of priorities.

5. Exercise Smart

As most of us has experienced, it gets more and more difficult to lose weight as we grow older. Changing hormone levels and slower metabolism all add to the problem.

But you can be smart about your physical activity. The exercises I recommend to lose weight and be the fittest as you age are:

  1. Weight bearing exercises (either with weights or body weight),
  2. Cardiovascular Exercises
  3. Yoga to keep yourself flexible and healthy

1. Weight Training

5 ways to beat the dreaded middle age spread

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that resistance training should be performed 2-3 times a week to work all the major muscles like your legs, core and arms.

Studies show that middle aged and older individuals gain immense benefit from weight bearing activities. In addition to helping with weight loss, resistance training can increase your bone density, reduce the risk of falls and fractures, help regulate your blood sugar, reduce joint pains and may even prevent dementia.

2. Cardiovascular Exercises

5 ways to beat the dreaded middle age spread

As far as cardiovascular activities are concerned, I am not a fan of long duration steady state cardiovascular activities. This includes running for hours on the treadmill or cycling or any other activity which you do for hours such as marathons and triathlon training.

This is because extreme endurance activities can pose significant risk to your heart. Long-distance running can lead to acute volume overload, inflammation, thickening and stiffening of the heart muscle and arteries, coronary artery calcification, arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest. G H I

It can also increase the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, and free radicals in your body. And more and more research show that both cortisol and free radicals may be the underlying cause of a variety of chronic diseases. A B C D E F

From the perspective of looking good as you age, I don’t advice steady state running as it also gives rise to what is known as ‘Runner’s Face‘, where the face becomes gaunt and loose, making one appear older than their age.

This is because the skin, muscles and ligaments in the face sag due to the constant high-impact pounding. While genetics plays a role in sagging, the constant high impact will exacerbate the situation, if you are predisposed to increased sagging. In addition, the increased production of free radicals and exposure to the sun for a long period of time also accelerate the aging process.

You only need to look at pictures of sprinters vs marathon runners to see that  marathoners usually looks haggard and old whereas the sprinters look healthy and vital. The pictures below highlight this difference better than anything I can say. The persons to the left in both the pictures are marathon runners while the persons to the right are sprinters.

Top 5 Ways to beat the dreaded middle age spread

5 ways to beat the dreaded middle age spread

Instead of steady state cardiovascular exercises, I recommend High Intensity Interval Training which is a form of aerobic activity where you work at maximum capacity for a period interspersed with periods of lower intensity.

For example, a person could alternate 60 seconds of walking and 60 seconds of sprinting for 10-15 minutes. Or 60 seconds of cycling at higher intensity followed by 60 seconds at lower intensity. Or swimming. Or stair climbing.

HIIT increases your post workout metabolism.

Research has shown one session of HIIT can burn calories for 1.5 – 24 hours after exercise. In addition, you can get the same benefits such as fat loss, improved muscle cell function, increased oxygen consumption and improved anaerobic capacity by exercising for much less time.

3. Yoga

5 ways to beat the dreaded middle age spread

In addition to weight bearing and cardiovascular exercises, incorporating Yoga into your exercise regimen will not only improve your flexibility and reduce stress but also reduce the risk of many diseases of middle-age such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke.

Being healthy and looking good as we age is the ideal we all aspire to. Taking a holistic approach that covers your diet, exercise and mental wellness is a sure shot way of making sure that you live a healthy and productive life for years to come.

The thing to remember is that you have to be willing to do the work and make healthy living a priority in order to achieve the best possible results.