Age may be nothing but a number, but it’s a much different story when it comes to shedding unwanted pounds, experts say. The sad truth is the older we get, the more challenging it is to get the weight off.
But on NBC's “The Biggest Loser: The Battle of the Ages,” the middle-age team offers some encouragement: The black team, consisting of ages 30 to 49 and led by trainer Bob Harper, is this season's top team, handily beating the 50-plus blue team — and the young'uns on the under-30 red team.
The truth is, anyone can be a big loser by following some basic principles — no matter our age.
If you’re in your 20’s
When you’re 20-something, it seems you can eat almost anything you want. Even if you gain an extra 40 or 50 pounds after college, it will melt off with little effort, says Mark Macdonald, a nutrition/fitness expert who founded Venice Nutrition in Venice, Calif.
“Anything you do, you can drop that weight pretty quickly,” he says. “But the longer you keep the weight on, the harder it is to lose.”
The solution: Eat within an hour upon waking, and at least every three to four hours, says Macdonald, author of the New York Times bestselling book, “Body Confidence.” Each meal should be about 250 calories with about 35 grams of protein and 22 grams of carbs and 10 grams of fat.
Breakfast could be six ounces of low-fat cottage cheese, two to three ounces of blueberries and a handful of nuts. For dinner, try salmon with brown rice and asparagus.
Here’s what Macdonald calls the right exercise: Get in 30 to 40 minutes of cardio such as walking, climbing stairs, treadmill or jogging four to five days each week. Add in strength training such as yoga or Pilates three days a week, and follow that up with another 30 minutes of sprinting, alternating with one minute of total explosion and two minutes of slow walking, repeat the pattern for a half hour.
“Every meal should be focused on calories per meal, not calories per day,” he says. “Feed your body correctly and release the stored fat. Do the right exercise to burn the fat off.”
If you’re in your 30s
Build on the good habits you developed in your 20s.
MacDonald says a healthy lifestyle will allow you to keep the weight off or get rid of unwanted pounds, so continue following the same tips for people in their 20s.
Heather Bauer, founder of Nu-Train, a nutrition and counseling center in New York City, says it’s a must to break the bad habits you developed in your 20s such as eating junk food and skipping healthy meals.
“You can’t eat the same things you did in your 20s without gaining weight,” she says. “You are not in a state of growth anymore so it’s important to listen to your hunger cues and not eat because you think you’re supposed to eat.”
The solution: Load up on phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables, Bauer says.
“In your 20’s, you may have just done cardio, but in your 30’s, you may have to build more muscle so you have a faster metabolism,” she explains. “Do more weight-bearing exercise as well as cardio to get your metabolic rate up.”
In addition to that, she suggests choosing healthier snacks -- if you must have them.
“Focus on a snack that is high in fiber and high in protein,” she says. “Keep your energy levels up in the afternoon. Think about an apple with low-fat string cheese, an apple with peanut butter, a tablespoon of peanut butter. You could do a nutrition bars that is organic and high in fiber.”
If you’re in your 40s and 50s
Exercise and diet remain highly important, but also remember to load up on more omega-3 fatty acids found in fish because they’re important for anti-inflammatory benefits and help with depression because melancholy moods can lead to weight gain, says Bauer, author of "The Wall Street Diet" and the upcoming book, "Bread is the Devil."
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, halibut, albacore tuna, walnuts, flaxseed oil and canola oil. Catfish, spinach and shrimp also contain omega-3 fatty acids.
Also, it’s important for women to make sure they’re getting enough calcium, Bauer says.
The solution: Lower your caloric intake by at least 100 calories a day.
“If you’re drinking coffee, switch from whole milk to skim milk, switch your snack from chips to an apple,” Bauer says. “If your family is having spaghetti and meatballs, have meatballs and spinach instead.
If you can’t do an intense workout, she says, get outside and walk for 20 minutes and spend 20 minutes returning to your starting point. Try Zumba for dancing and movement and get an exercise buddy.
“When you get a little older, you have to work a little harder, but don’t throw in the towel and use age as an excuse,” Bauer says. “Thinner and more active people live longer.”
If you’re 60 or older
At this stage of life, it becomes all about calorie intake, so if you know you’re not very active, don’t take it a lot of calories, says Lauren McKnight-Ford, a nutrition coach in Metro Detroit.
“You really want to test your body and see what works for you,” she says. “You definitely want to keep exercising, but it’s really important for you to consult with your doctor. You don’t want to get out there and fall out, especially if you’re taking medications for high blood pressure.”
The solution: When you get into the later stages of life, your hormones have shut down and activity levels changes, that’s why it’s important to keep moving, says Macdonald, nutrition/fitness expert in Venice, Calif.
“You really shift into survival mode,” he says. “Eat optimally and do what exercises you can. If you can do high intensity, do it.
Macdonald suggests walking five days a week, get on the elliptical trainer or ride a stationary bike.
“If you can, start earlier,” he says. “If you can learn these concepts in your 20s, you can eliminate all the challenges in your 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. You can take your body wherever you want.”