What is the ‘middle age spread’?
The term ‘middle-age spread’ has been etched into ageing lore, yet unflattering connotations ignore the naturalness of physiological change. Expecting to weigh the same at 30 as 18 is folly according to clinical psychologist Louise Adams from Treat Yourself Well.
“Our body weight at age 18 is for many of us the lightest we have ever been,” says Adams. “We may not have stopped growing at that point and may not have reached full maturity. Weight gain as we age is quite normal and body shape and size can change over our lifetime. Sticking to a weight from many years ago is unrealistic for the vast majority of us. It’s similar to remembering how your skin looked as a teenager and expecting the same in middle age.”
The other sticking point in weight expectations is that many of us expect that with enough weights training and self-control we can defy the effects of hormonal changes associated with mid life.
“I think we should be a bit more accepting of carrying a bit of weight as we get older,” says the University of Melbourne‘s Dr Joseph Proietto, a professor of medicine. “There are multiple studies that suggest that a little extra weight can be a healthy thing. In one study we conducted we looked at people who had stents put in their hearts for angina. We found that the underweight people died at a faster rate, and the overweight were better than the normal weight, the mildly obese were better than the overweight in terms of survival.”
How to stay trim – despite your age!
Dr Lavie encourages a paradigm shift from weight to fitness. “It’s much better to strive for fitness and be on the thicker side than to be thin and unfit,” he says. “Loss of fitness is a much stronger predictor of mortality than weight gain.”
He says the ideal is to exercise 40 to 45 minutes a day, five to six days a week, with plenty of strength work.
“Fitness gurus will tell you that strength training becomes more vital the older one gets, and they are right, for it supports muscle mass like no other form of exercise and can help increase not only strength but also bone mass,” says Dr Lavie.
“In most people, muscle strength peaks in our 20s and then gradually decreases. Recent research suggests that women on average will lose muscle mass twice as fast as men the same age, which can make a huge difference in their ability to maintain an ideal weight.”