Health expert Nikki Edwards examines the middle age spread and offers tips on ways to reduce your waistline whether you are 16 or 60

Eating a balance diet is important

Eating a balance diet is important - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Worries about your weight do not diminish with age.

Weighing in

Weighing in - Credit: Getty Images/Pixland

In fact, research suggests that men and women have bigger battles with the scales than their teenage counterparts – partly because their ability to shed pounds decreases as they get older.

There are a number of reasons why our tendency to put on weight increases with age.

We don’t move around as much

Can you lose weight this winter?

Can you lose weight this winter? - Credit: Getty Images

A decline in our physical abilities starts around age 30, continues throughout our life, and reaches a plateau between ages 60 and 70.

After the plateau, a slower decline follows.

Put simply, this means that the older we get the more our ability to exercise with fervor diminishes.

A healthy salad

A healthy salad - Credit: Archant

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We move more slowly and we have less energy.

This means that we burn fewer calories in a 30-minute session than we did a decade before.

A decrease in our physical abilities also leads to a decrease in our metabolic rate (the amount of energy used in a given period). This in itself contributes to weight gain.

Our bodies don’t work as well

After the age of 30 the speed at which our nerves conduct impulses declines by approximately 15%, resulting in decreased reaction time and slowness in performing tasks.

Maximum breathing capacity also decreases approximately 40% after 40. And cardiovascular function declines approximately one half of one percent each year starting around age 30.

It is no coincidence therefore that many world-class and endurance athletes begin gradually leaving their sport after this age.

There is also a 40% to 50% reduction in muscle mass during this period with a similar decline in bone mass.

We have upset our momentum

Frequent dieting – or yoyo dieting - has been shown to affect the resting metabolic rate and weight.

Individuals who diet frequently in their youth have a significant decline in their basal metabolic rate. Periods of extreme starvation can produce as much as a 45% decline of the metabolic system.

This means that when you embark on a diet as you get older, it takes longer to have an effect.

We still enjoy our food

Unfortunately, there is not an age-related decline in appetite to go alongside the reduction in movement, inability to diet and lack of motivation to change.

Most individuals – whatever their age - consume calories in excess of requirements and this results in weight gain over the years.

We are suffering from hormonal imbalances

One key culprit for weight gain in older women is hormonal imbalances, particularly the issue of “oestrogen dominance.”

Oestrogen is a hormone produced in the ovaries which promotes cell division and cell growth, but in excessive amounts, it contributes to the formation of fat tissue.

Another hormone, progesterone, acts as antagonist to oestrogen and protects against the pro-growth effects of oestrogen.

Normally, oestrogen and progesterone work in synchronisation to achieve hormonal balance.

But women in premenopausal and menopausal years experience rapid declines in hormonal production and the decline in progesterone occurs much faster than the decline in oestrogen.

This inequality is what causes the problem of oestrogen dominance and the growth of excessive fat tissue.

It’s important to point out here though, that hormones only account for a small increase in weight. The rest is a result of diet and lack of exercise.

We are more set in our ways

Like old grouch Victor Meldrew, we don’t like change as we get older. We are more likely to relish routine, order and structure.

This makes it harder for us to accept that we need to overhaul our diet or alter our lifestyle.

But you can say: “I don’t believe it” until you are blue in the face. Change you must if you want to shift the pounds.

Who is most at risk?

According to a recent study, women are most likely to gain weight aged 38, while for men it’s 44.

For women having children plays a huge part.

They also blamed getting comfortable in relationships and long working hours for weight gain.

One of the key reasons for men getting a middle-aged spread was divorce, with 22 per cent saying it was a factor.

A further 36 per cent said they were too busy with their careers to go to the gym.

What can we do?

You know the drill when it comes to losing weight: take in fewer calories, burn more calories.

The results might be slower to see the older you get, but sticking to these tips will help you shed excess pounds eventually which will make you feel and look younger for longer:

1. Write down what you eat for one week. This will get you thinking about your food consumption differently.

2. Get a mantra. You’ve heard of a self-fulfilling prophesy? If you keep focusing on things you can’t do, chances are you won’t do them. Instead repeat positive thoughts to yourself.

3. Stick to water. The average person consumes an extra 245 calories a day from soft drinks and juice. That’s nearly 90,000 calories a year.

4. Watch less TV. Sacrifice one programme (there’s probably one you don’t really want to watch anyway) and go for a walk instead.

5. Find ways to workout without leaving the house. Simply spending 10 minutes a day walking up and down stairs will help.

6. Make food from scratch. Prepared and processed food is full of calories and ingredients that are not nutritious. Ditch your microwave meal and get your old recipe books out.

7. Buy a pedometer, clip it to your belt, and aim for an extra 1,000 steps a day.

8. If you get hungry bulk up your meals with veggies.

9. Avoid white foods. Large amounts of simple carbohydrates from white flour and added sugar can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and lead to weight gain. Substitute them with whole-grain breads and brown rice.

10. Eat more protein. It keeps you to feel fuller for longer and helps repair the body after exercise.

11. Don’t beat yourself up. Yes, losing weight might take longer but it needn’t cause you stress.

12. Learn to relax. Easy ways to reduce stress include yoga, deep breathing and taking nature walks. For better sleep, limit all computer, phone and TV use before bed, stop snacking after dinner, and keep your bedroom dark and quiet.

Good luck!

For more information on Nikki’s lifestyle programme visit