In your teens and 20s, it used to be that you could eat pizza every night for a week without a lot of pushback from your body in the form of extra pounds. In your 40s, not so much. Maybe you’re even eating much better now, but weight is still accumulating.
It’s usually not just due to losing muscle mass over time (more on that later). It’s also this: “as you get older, there’s a lot of competition for your time and energy,” says William Samuel Yancy, M.D., director of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center and associate professor of medicine at Duke University. “That can push out healthy eating and exercise.” Here’s how to hack your biology and your lifestyle to lose weight after 40.
Starting in your 30s, you can lose three to five percent of your muscle mass each decade if you don’t stay active. Note the last part of that point: “If you don’t stay active.” You can maintain that muscle or regain it with a regular strength routine—meaning you do moves that hit the major muscles of the body at least twice a week. A great place to start: This 3-Week Full-Body Workout Plan for Men Over 40.
Why that’s so important: “The more muscle we have, the more calories we burn,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D.N., consultant for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine for the Cleveland Clinic. “It can be a game changer, in that it impacts metabolism in a way that allows a man to eat more.” Lots of over-40 guys like HIIT, since its compressed timeframe ends up having a low impact on your schedule.
That doesn’t mean you should only strength train; aerobic activity is helpful, too. But supplementing your Spin/run/row/elliptical routine with strength training is essential.
Don’t force yourself to do the most popular plan
“There are many eating patterns that can be used to lose weight,” says Dr. Yancy. Many have evidence behind them, whether that’s keto, Paleo, Mediterranean, vegan, or anything else. Interestingly, there’s not as much research on what works for men as there is on women, but “for men, sometimes it’s as simple as cutting calories or shortening the time in which you are eating to an 8- to 10-hour window a day,” Kirkpatrick says. Even something as straightforward as not eating after 6 PM can make a big difference—one of her male clients who lost 150 pounds found that to be especially helpful, she says.
If you prefer a specific plan with specific rules, make sure it goes with your lifestyle, which, for most guys, gets increasingly complicated in your 40s with more responsibilities at work, with your family, and maybe even with your aging parents. Keto is going to be hard if you live a grab-and-go existence. Meal prep is going to be a challenge if you’re never home long enough to cook. Don’t just pick what worked for a friend; pick what’s likely to work with your busy, over-40 lifestyle.
Be sober curious
“Another factor I see that can help men is to take a look at drinking habits,” Kirkpatrick says. “Men that I counsel who cut alcohol or significantly cut back tend to lose weight more easily.”
Now that the whole sober curious moment is making not drinking trendy, it’s easier to find alcohol-free options. Less alcohol not only means you’re drinking fewer calories, it can also mean fewer late-night bowls of ramen or plates of double cheeseburgers on the way home from happy hour. Today, it’s also easier to maintain a social life when you’re not overdrinking, since there’s the new perception that you’re not saying no to a beer or five; you’re part of a “movement.”