why do we get fat as we age
Fact: It is harder to lose that unwanted belly fat as individuals age. The main reason for the increase in body fat is a decrease in metabolism. Research has shown that most people's metabolisms decrease one half of one percent per year after the age of 25. The three main physiological factors that slow down a person's metabolism are: decrease in muscle mass, change in hormone levels and decreased caloric need of internal organs. All three of these factors can be controlled by making lifestyle changes. The one that is the most controllable is the decrease in muscle mass. Changes in hormone levels usually occur in the body due to a decreased secretion of a hormone by a gland or the body's cells become unable to use the hormone as effectively. For women, the largest change in hormone levels comes when menopause occurs. This is when many women will start to notice a change in their body composition and get the so-called "muffin top. " Menopause is not something that can be avoided but there are ways to make lifestyle changes to off set some of the body compositions that come with it. Increasing aerobic exercise will help to burn more calories, which will aid in weight maintenance and reduce some of the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. Starting a resistance training program to increase muscle mass will help alleviate some of the symptoms that occur as hormones change with age. The decrease in calorie needs of internal organs occurs because they are functioning more efficiently. This gradual decrease in calorie needs happens as the body ages. Again this cannot be stopped but the decrease can be slowed. Think of the heart as an example. It is the same as any of our other muscles; if it has to work harder it becomes stronger, if it works too hard it becomes fatigued and damaged, and if it does not work as hard it tends to become weaker.
Finding the fine line of too much work and too little is necessary to keep this organ functioning. One of the best ways to add the right amount of stress is cardiovascular activity such as walking, biking, running or swimming. The heart is only an example but all other internal organs benefit from exercise since it helps increase blood flow and adds a positive stress to the body. The most controllable factor out of the three is the decrease in muscle mass. Probably the most obvious intervention is to maintain and increase muscle mass with resistance training. The more that muscle mass is maintained during the aging process the better the body's metabolism. Resistance training does not mean heading to the local gym and trying to bulk up like the muscle guys on the magazines. It means challenging the muscles to do more work by lifting a weight. This can be done by using everyday household items like water jugs or canned goods and lifting them multiple times. For more information on strength training exercises and aging a great resource is President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
It's a pretty common lament, the idea that you just can't eat what you used to. But why is that so? And is it avoidable? There are a number of reasons why we put on the pounds as years go by, but take heart: There are ways to fight back в and win! There are some particular biological changes that happen as we age. For one, aging muscles actually contribute to the increase in the amount of fat we store in our bodies, says Cheryl Phillips, president of the American Geriatrics Society. "So, if you look at a woman who is 70 years old and compare her to what her body was like at 25 years of age, even though her weight may be exactly the same, she had more percentage of muscle in her body when she was 25 than she does when she's 70. " Our Aging Muscles In large part, that's because we lose muscle cells as we age.
When younger muscle cells get damaged, they're quickly repaired. That's not the case with older muscles, according to UCLA researcher and geriatrician Jonathan Wanagat. He says we don't know why muscles literally shrink as we age. But there are a number of theories. "I think one of the ones that have become increasingly interesting and popular is the idea that the stem cells in the muscle are not able to respond to damage or to aging the way they did when we were younger," says Wanagat. And if damaged muscle cells aren't repaired, they sort of whittle away and die, he says. Decreases in growth hormone, testosterone and estrogen levels may also account for the loss of muscle fiber and the inability of tissue to replenish itself. In addition, the muscle cells we're left with are sort of worn out, according to Phillips. "If you think of muscles as being the energy powerhouse of our body, that's where most of our calories are burned. And when we talk about metabolism, what we're really talking about is how efficiently those powerhouse cells в the muscle cells of our body в burn the energy we bring in. " Energy is delivered to the body in the form of calories. And if you keep your caloric intake exactly the same as you get older, says Phillips, those unburned calories end up as fat. Its sort of a one-two punch, says Wanagat. The energy powerhouse cells in muscles get damaged with age. That damage accumulates over time and, on top of that, the body's ability to repair that damage also dwindles with aging.
Building Strength At Any Age And that's where exercise comes in. Wanagat says countless studies have shown that exercise в even among individuals in their 80s в works. It actually helps the muscle cells get bigger. And beyond size, it makes the muscles stronger. "We aren't sure exactly how exercise makes muscles stronger, but we know that when we measure the grip strength of the hands or feet, grip is strongest just after exercise, even among people in their 80s and 90s. So weightlifting at any age offers low risk and great benefit, says Wanagat. At UCLA, geriatrician and researcher Gail Greendale has just begun a second yoga study with seniors to try to figure out what poses work best for the older body. Greendale wants to understand how each yoga pose stresses muscles and joints. Then, she hopes to figure out how to modify the poses for the older body in order to maximize strength-building and minimize injury. In addition, Greendale says that as we age the immune system can get out of whack, turning on an inflammatory response when there are no bacteria or viruses to kill, and keeping it on long after the body's invaders have left. Such an inappropriate inflammatory response can actually damage one's own cells in whatever part of the body the inflammation occurs, whether it's in muscles, joints or organs. Ensuring such muscle and joint strength can also help fight this and other unfortunate aspects of aging, arthritis and inflammation. People over 75 are likely to have chronic joint problems, says Greendale. The joints are less able to tolerate the strain and stress of movement; they can be painful and swollen. Building joint and muscle strength can defend against that.
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