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Losing weight after 40

February 19, 1999

TOPS groupBy KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




Here are a few questions for you baby boomers:

When you were younger, were you able to eat almost anything - double cheeseburgers, piles of french fries, chocolate milkshakes - and never seem to gain an ounce?

Have the pounds been sneaking up on you along with the years?

Does it seem harder to lose weight now that you've hit - say, "The Big Four-Oh?"

If your answers to the second and third questions are "Yes" and "Yes," you are half right.

[cont. from lifestyle]

"There is no question that in middle age, both men and women gain weight," says Barbara Hansen, a professor of physiology and director of Obesity and Diabetes Research Center at University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Fat is gained as part of the aging process, and it's rare to gain much muscle, she adds.

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There is no exact line - no particular age - at which this occurs, according to Hansen. But she does say that more than half of all people older than 45 are significantly overweight.

Much of this is determined by your genetics. Some people are predisposed to greater gains and they also are more likely to develop Type II diabetes, hypertension or high blood pressure and bad lipids, Hansen says.

That's the bad news. And here's more if you are using your age as an excuse for not being able to lose weight. There's no evidence that it's harder to lose weight after the age of 40, according to Hansen.

A few local people who are older than 40 illustrate Hansen's point.

After she turned 35, it seemed that she would gain a few pounds every year, says Dee Harne. The Waynesboro, Pa., resident wasn't happy about it. "I didn't feel good. I wasn't pleased with my appearance," she says.

Harne, now 48, joined Weight Watchers last June. The program appealed to her because she could eat out and stay on it.

Harne has lost 40 pounds. "It's been very easy," she says. But it's not just losing weight. She has learned about portion control and says Weight Watchers encourages exercise. Harne tries to run and walk about 20 minutes a day. "The program changed my whole way of thinking about taking care of myself," she says.

Hansen concedes that those who exercise tend to keep weight off better after they've lost it. They may be more motivated, but she says she has seen no evidence that exercise will alter fatness or produce substantial weight loss.

"The issue is one of simple elementary school arithmetic," Hansen says. Most people can't burn enough calories exercising to balance the number of calories they are consuming. You have to reduce caloric intake to lose weight, according to Hansen.

"The price of leanness is eternal vigilance," Hansen says. "The best measure is the bathroom scale."

Hagerstown resident Pat Saunders and about 20 to 25 other people meet every Monday morning in the basement of Washington Square United Methodist Church. They are members of TOPS, Take Off Pounds Sensibly, a 48-year-old nonprofit weight-loss support group that has several chapters in the area. The program includes a weekly weigh-in.

Many of the group's members are middle-aged, and many have lost considerable amounts of weight. Saunders, 52, has been a member since March 1998. She's lost 25 pounds toward her goal of losing 105, a goal determined in consultation with her physician, something TOPS requires. The program encourages healthful eating, portion control, drinking six to eight glasses of water a day and some exercise. The Monday morning group sometimes walks about a mile - five laps around the parking lot.

Saunders and other TOPS members attribute their success to lifestyle changes and the support of the group.

"I feel better, and I feel a lot better about myself," Saunders says.

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