ASK AN EXPERT: How can I stop the middle-age spread?

Q: “Controlling my weight was a piece of cake in my 20s and 30s, but not anymore. Why does it seem so much harder now that I’m 50-something? Is there anything I can do to fight the middle-age spread, or is this a battle that all women my age are destined to lose?”

There’s a good reason why weight control seems harder as you get older: because it is harder. As women age, our lean body mass declines, our metabolism slows down and our caloric needs diminish. If we continue to eat and exercise as we always have without adjusting for these changes, we’re going to gain weight.

The situation isn’t hopeless — you can make a difference — but as you’ve discovered, sticking with the status quo is not going to work. At this stage of your life, it’s going to take a stronger commitment, a more focused effort and possibly some new tactics. Let’s take a look at some of the natural forces that you’re up against, and what you can do about them.

Maintaining muscle mass

Women naturally lose lean body mass — aka muscle — as we get older. Men do, too, but women have less to begin with, so hanging onto it takes more effort. Starting a muscle-building program may not be on the average middle-aged woman’s agenda, but it’s a very worthwhile pursuit. A body composed of more lean, strong muscle not only helps you look and stay trimmer, but also improves balance, mobility and self-sufficiency as you get older.

The best thing you can do to build your muscles is to challenge them regularly. Set aside about 20 minutes, twice a week, for some type of muscle-building workout, such as:

n Pushups, planks and other exercises that use your own body as a weight

n Resistance exercises with stretchy bands

n Weight training with free weights

To support your muscle-building efforts, pay attention to protein. You’ll build more muscle if you spread your protein evenly throughout the day, rather than eating one large portion at dinner. Shoot for 20 to 30 grams of lean protein at every meal. That’s the amount in about 3 ounces of chicken (21 grams) or 6 ounces of fat-free Greek yogurt (14 grams) and a quarter cup of almonds (8 grams).

Maximizing metabolism

Metabolism — the rate at which we burn calories — starts to slow down by 2 to 3 percent per decade beginning in our 20s, with more noticeable slowing between 40 and 60. This is true for both men and women, but once again, women start with a slower metabolism in the first place. As we get older and the number of calories that we burn throughout the day drops further, weight gain becomes more likely unless we change our game plan. Three changes will help:

n Start that muscle-building program we just talked about: Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat, so it burns more calories, even when we’re resting.

n Be more active in general: Some of the “age-related” decreases in metabolism and lean body mass may result from our tendency to be less active as we get older. Don’t be part of the problem — be part of the solution. Sit less and move more. Turn off the television and go for a walk.

n Trim a few calories from your diet (see below): You may not be able to halt the slowdown in your metabolism completely, but you can reduce the calories you consume to adjust for the new normal.

Fueling up on fewer calories

As women’s lean body mass and metabolism decline with age, so do our caloric needs. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to eat less — just differently.

Gradually start shifting the dividing lines on your plate, expanding the portions of low-calorie vegetables and fruits, and shrinking the portions of meat, pasta, bread and other starches. As veggies start to crowd out the higher-calorie foods, you’ll still get the volume and nutrients you need, but with fewer calories. Other switches that can cut calories without leaving you hungry:

n Switch to plain, fat-free yogurt and stir in your own fruit

n Choose fish, chicken and turkey (no skin) over fatty cuts of meat

n Opt for broth-based, vegetable-rich soups instead of creamy soups and chowders

Minding your middle

On top of all of these weighty challenges, menopause adds a final kicker, sending hormonal signals to your body to redistribute weight. Before menopause, any extra fat would spread itself evenly — and less noticeably — around your body. After menopause, most of it marches straight to your middle.

There is no easy fix for this. The only reliable way to reduce your waist size is to reduce your overall weight. Becoming more active, getting into a strength-training program and eating lighter will help. But that’s not the last word on the subject.

Choosing your battles

At some point, we just need to get more comfortable with the idea that our bodies change as we get older, and that’s OK. That doesn’t mean waving the flag of surrender — you can make lifestyle changes that do make a difference — but it’s not reasonable to spend your 50s, 60s and 70s fighting a constant battle to get back into the jeans that you wore in your 20s.

Decide for yourself: What weight can I maintain reasonably well, with a reasonable amount of effort? Congratulate yourself for every success on the way to that goal — even if it only gets you part of the way there — and make peace with the rest.

n

Answered by Providence Nutrition Services.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge



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