I just had my 49th birthday. I can’t believe it….49! I remember thinking anyone who was above 40 was seriously OLD. And now here I am well past 40 and almost at 50 and I will tell you…I do NOT feel old. But, I have noticed some physical changes…like some love handles that won’t budge. We’ve always been told that aging is a natural process that we can’t control and that part of the process can often involve losing muscle and gaining fat. It’s true that getting older is associated with a loss of muscle, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. I work out like crazy with HIIT (high intensity interval training) weight lifting, yoga and fast walking 6 days a week. But, those love handles aren’t going anywhere. And that’s ok with me because it’s about health at this point. We can’t stop the clock, but exercise can actually slow the aging process, helping you stay fit, healthy, younger looking and keep the weight gain to a minimum.

So why do we gain weight as we age? Most people think that gaining weight and getting older go hand in hand, but the reason we gain weight isn’t just about getting older, it’s about how our habits change.

Many of us gain weight because we:

• Become more sedentary
• Don’t lift weights to maintain muscle mass
• Eat more calories even as metabolism slows down

We all remember being able to eat what we wanted when we were younger. That’s when we had a super fast metabolism and your body was using the food you were eating for not only energy but also to help you grow. At 49 I’m not growing any more – except maybe in the love handle department.

While there are some elements we can’t control, most of the weight gain that comes with aging can be avoided with a little exercise.

Muscle Loss 101:
The main reason for muscle loss (which lowers metabolism) is that we often spend way too much sitting – we sit at work, we sit when we watch TV, we spend many hours in the car and sit and we sit when we play around on the computer and on our phones. If we spend too much time doing that when we’re younger, it’s that much harder to stop doing that when we get older. Being active and lifting weights (even 2 or 5 pounds) will help you keep that metabolism revved up and also keep your bone density healthy.

Cardio is Cool:
Choose any activity you enjoy (or think you might enjoy with some practice) like swimming, walking or cycling and try to do that activity at least 120 minutes a week. Start with what you can handle and gradually add time each week until you can do 30 minutes of continuous activity. I used to be a runner until my hips and knees said no more. So I go for hour long walks as often as possible. Usually with my friend Laura and we talk about all the stuff going on in our lives so it’s not only exercise for the body but good for emotional connection.

Don’t be afraid of weight lifting:
Strength training may be one of the most important parts of your exercise program. You’ll build muscle and strength while also working on important areas like balance, stability and flexibility – all things that tend to decline with age. I used to teach an exercise class for those above the age of 65 and every single person was horrified when they had to do a balance evaluation. They all were weebling and wobbling and had no idea that their balance was so off!

Watch Your Diet:
You need LESS food and calories as you get older. So eat as healthy as you can. I try to stay in the 1500-1700 calorie range each day. And the quality of the calories is VERY important…don’t eat junk!

Be realistic:
As you get older, it will take longer to lose weight, so it helps to focus on the process – getting your workouts in and eating as healthfully as possible. Do that and your body will respond in its own time.