6 strategies for maintaining healthy weight in middle age

Trying to lose weight when you’re middle-aged can be frustrating. You’re probably finding that the diet and exercise strategies you may have used in your 20s and 30s don’t work anymore. 

So why won’t the scale budge? There are many reasons, including age-related muscle loss, a slowed metabolism and hormonal changes. Here’s what you can do about them.

Add weight training to your workout schedule

When you were younger, you may have hit a cardio class, the treadmill or a stair climber. But weight training — using your own body weight or free weights — is key for maintaining muscle and preventing added pounds that can come with age.

Muscle burns more calories at rest than fat but, unfortunately, muscle mass decreases as we age. This steady decline also slows your metabolism, which can lead to weight gain.

To fight muscle loss, add weightlifting to your weekly routine. If you’re new to it, start with 2 workouts a week and work your way up to 3, suggests Tina Tang, CPT., a certified personal trainer whose clients are primarily women over 40.

When building your workouts, Tang recommends that most healthy people include at least 1 exercise from each of the following movement categories, when possible:

  • Squat
  • Hinge (such as a deadlift or hip thrust)
  • Lunge
  • Upper-body push (chest press, triceps extension)
  • Upper-body pull (bent-over row, biceps curl)
  • Core (farmer’s carry, plank)

Make sleep a priority

“Getting enough quality sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy weight,” says Gabriela Rodriguez Ruiz, M.D., a board-certified bariatric surgeon at VIDA Wellness and Beauty. “This is because sleep plays a key role in hormone regulation, metabolism and energy levels,” she explains.

If you don’t get at least the recommended 7 hours of sleep,1 you may be more likely to make unhealthy choices that can lead to weight gain. 

To help improve your sleep, consider these healthy bedtime habits2:

  • Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day
  • Follow a relaxing bedtime routine
  • Avoid using electronic devices in the bedroom
  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature
  • Stay away from caffeine late in the day if you’re sensitive to its effects
  • Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime

Focus on healthy foods

It’s often easier to grab takeout when you’re busy. But putting in the effort to create healthy meals will go a long way toward keeping your weight down.

“One of the best ways to maintain a healthy weight in middle age is to have a balanced, nutrient-rich diet,” says Dr. Rodriguez Ruiz.

You may also need to downsize your daily calorie budget. For example, women in their 50s may need about 200 fewer calories a day than women in their 30s and 40s.3 That said, daily calorie needs vary depending on your height, activity level, current weight and sex.4

To reduce calories, choose more fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. “Limiting processed foods and sugary drinks can also help to keep calorie intake at a healthy level,” says Dr. Rodriguez Ruiz. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the average American consumes about 270 calories a day of added sugars alone — that’s roughly 17 teaspoons.5

Increase physical activity

When you’re juggling a lot of responsibilities, it’s easy for exercise to fall off your radar. But regular physical activity helps you burn more calories per day. Exercise paired with a healthy diet can help you lose or maintain weight.

Try to reach at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. “It doesn't have to be anything too strenuous,” assures Dr. Rodriguez Ruiz. Brisk walking, jogging, biking, swimming and gardening are all great ways to stay active and keep the body moving, she says.

Manage stress

“Stress can increase the production of hormones that cause your appetite to increase, which can lead to cravings for unhealthy food, overeating or poor food choices,” explains Dr. Rodriguez Ruiz. Over time, these unhealthy food habits can cause your weight to creep up.

To keep stress under control, build self-care into your schedule. A 5-minute meditation session, a quick outdoor walk or a weekly yoga class are all simple self-care options that can help lower stress.

Get regular checkups

It’s important to get regular checkups with your doctor, especially as you age, notes Dr. Rodriguez Ruiz. These checkups can help spotlight potential health issues including those that may put you at risk for weight gain Finding health issues early can help you get the treatment you need before the weight goes up.

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