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Fit and Forty: What Every Woman Needs To Know About Weight Control At This Age

Women in their 40’s are at an advantage when it comes to weight control and fitness. How so? I asked three of my favorite medical experts to explain what it means to be fit and forty, and how you can get there.

Myth-busting With Dr. Dickerson

Dr. Val: I know that many women in their 40’s complain of having gained weight. What causes that weight gain? Is it inevitable?

Dr. Dickerson: Many women don’t gain weight in their 40’s so it’s certainly not inevitable. There are a few common misconceptions about weight gain and aging that I’d like to address.

First, hormone supplements don’t cause weight gain – menopause, in general, with or without hormones, is associated with about a 10 pound gain. This often starts in perimenopause so it could occur as early as the 40’s.

Second, lean muscle mass decreases slowly from mid-30’s probably until menopause when it decreases more steeply. So women in their 40’s don’t experience too large a change in their metabolism.

Third, the weight that women have in their 40’s is often about how many babies they have had. Data show us that women retain about 10 pounds per pregnancy. Weight begins to shift as the perimenopause era begins – more towards the abdomen and the hips and thighs.

And finally, weight gain is not due to hormonal or metabolic changes, but may be more about emotional eating. Women often experience the empty nest syndrome in their late 40’s and change their eating habits to constant “snacking” – they tend not to count these calories when adding things up

Dr. Vivian Dickerson, Past President of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Medical Director, women’s health programs and care, Hoag Hospital, Newport Beach, CA.

Increasing physical activity is the key to success

Dr. Val: How can women in their 40’s counteract potential weight gain? What’s the most effective strategy to stay trim and fit?

Dr. Hall: While it is true that body remodeling and loss of muscle mass probably starts in the late 30’s it is almost completely a matter of now much physical activity is taking place. Much of the perceived change in body image, (gravity-dependent “sagging”) is also accentuated with decreased muscle tone in the sedentary woman. Weight gain, on the other hand is quite related to caloric intake. It is greatly modulated by the degree of physical activity as well.

My general feeling is that most diets do not work, and the older you are, the truer that is. After age 40 women cannot consistently lose weight and keep it off without a plan of regular physical activity (aerobic) plus some resistance work (weights, bands) to improve body tone.

Dr. Bill Hall, Past President of the American College of Physicians and Director of the Center for Healthy Aging, Rochester, NY.

The 40’s: no better time to get trim and fit

Dr. Val: Do women in their 40’s have an advantage in losing weight?

Dr. Dansinger: Your 40’s are a great time to take lifestyle changes to new heights. Whether for weight loss, or prevention of diabetes or other related medical problems, many women who struggled in their 20’s and 30’s finally find success in their 40’s. For many women at this age, previously insurmountable logistical barriers such as raising preschool age children, or inflexible work schedules, often improve somewhat. Such expertise in schedule-juggling, when combined with a renewed commitment toward preventing health problems, often gives such ambitious women the strength and experience to finally achieve consistency with an effective exercise and healthy eating routine that produces long-lasting results.

Although the metabolism slows gradually throughout adulthood, the effectiveness of lifestyle changes for health improvements remains strong throughout life, and may actually become most beneficial as we grow older. Gaining muscle and bone strength through weight-lifting type exercise may help a woman in her 40’s reduce the risk of muscle and bone loss that typically affected women of her mother’s generation.

Dr. Michael Dansinger, Lifestyle Medicine Physician/Researcher, Tufts Medical Center, Boston. Nutrition and fitness advisor to NBC’s Biggest Loser.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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5 Responses to “Fit and Forty: What Every Woman Needs To Know About Weight Control At This Age”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am a 43 year old working mother of 2 boys.  A few years ago I began putting on weight, mainly in my middle, an area that I hadn’t struggled with in the past.  In January of 2007  I began working out regularly (3-5 times a week for 50-60 minutes).  I was very frustrated that I didn’t see the weight loss that I would have in my 20’s or 30’s.  I stuck with it, and now feel great.  I still don’t see the results on the scale, but I have lost inches, have shorter and less intense periods, and a higher energy level.  I am praying that the high activity level with offset some of the side affects of menopause.  Though I have noticed a change in my cycle,  I don’t think that I have started menopause.

  2. HuskyBytes says:

    At 41 I was downsized and have never returned to my computer profession. That is stressful. I never had any children but not for lack of trying for 10 yrs so I am not as busy as most women in their 40s. I find myself watching way too much TV and if I start checking email on the laptop … well, just don’t wait for me to move!

    I started at Planet Fitness 3x weekly. Slowly at first I was able to only do 10 – 15 minutes on the treadmill or bike before feeling a cold clammy sweat pour over my body. Now I’m up to 45″ cardio with a circuit of weight resistence machines ( 15 reps at what weight I can tolerate). 

    I do feel like I have more energy. I only lost about 20 lbs. but when the hot, humid weather started a couple of weeks ago I just swell up and my knees ache so badly I don’t want to move.

    For those that say its overeating, I guarantee you that is not true for some. I think its genetics or heritage since most Canadian women in my family are obese. Nobody was more athletic than I growing up. Everything from swimming, tennis, softball, basketball -> college crew team. It wasn’t until I turned 34 (stated birth control pills) that doctor noticed my T3 levels were too high and started me on Thyroxine, so is it the PILL or Thyroid? Stopped the PILL 3 yrs ago – skin breaks out more but I did not loose any weight. I am growing facial hair OMG!  I do yardwork around the house, walk when I can, gym 3x weekly and still weigh 274lbs……I’ve learned to deal with it.

    Is this perimenopause?  no period 3 months, then straight 19 days of light period.

  3. Mimi010169 says:

    Hi, I was very shocked but admittedly not surprised to read some of your comments. About going through menopause at such a young age. I used to think I was going out of my mind. I’m only 39 I keep telling myself. It all started last year when my periods kept getting shorter to the point where it was only lasting a day or day and a half. I phoned my doc and she said well as long as your getting it there’s really nothing to be worried about. I found a silver lining in all this and thought to myself well at least I only have one day to put up with my period each month and consider myself lucky. Then all of a sudden it came back to something more normal and started lasting 3 days now. But the cramps are horrible. And the beginning of this year I’ve been getting what I thought couldn’t possibly be hot flashes. My husband joked with me one time when I was really complaining about breaking out in a cold sweat and no one else was hot and the room wasn’t uncomfortable for anyone else but me. I thought wouldn’t it be funny, but how could I? I’m way too young to be having hot flashes. Or was I? I realized after doing some research and when it started to happen more frequently that that is exactly what was happening to me. I found this website. I’m glad to hear I am not the only one. 

  4. Anonymous says:

    I would like to know  what is a good protein drink or something that will boost my matabolism. I’m not really a breakfast eater. 

  5. Anonymous says:

    At the age of 34 I was diagnosed with an 8lb malignant tumor (ovarian cancer). Up until this point my only complaint was my periods changing and lasting longer, cramps, irritable, normal female things, or so I thought.  It was my own persistence that found what was really wrong. Please ladies, if you are experiencing different signs, either from your period or “simple” bloatedness, tell your dr. and like me if they don’t listen then see a different dr. until they run test and confirm you are perfectly healthy. Had I not insisted on an ultrasound at the time I might not still be here 11 years later.

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