The middle-aged spread – it’s not biologically inevitable

There’s a familiar story many of us mid-lifers like to tell – that spare tyre around the midriff, the love handles, the pounds that just seemed to magically appear, we’ll say, are all just middle-aged spread, a biological phenomenon which clearly relates to a slowing metabolism. One day, we woke up unable to fit into the clothes of our younger years, and it wasn’t our fault. It was our bodies did it to us. But a recent paper titled Daily Energy Expenditure Throughout The Human Life Course, suggests this is a bit of a porky, or form of self-denial. Their data showed metabolism does not slow down in midlife. That doesn’t happen till we are in our sixties. In fact, they stay pretty much on a level. So, it’s clear there is something else to blame. But what is it?

Don’t we already know what it is? It’s the slow creep, the regular culprits. Too many calories? Too little exercise?

They are certainly part of the formula. Most experts will say it’s eating too much, not doing enough exercise, living a life that’s digital rather than physical, the sedentary lifestyle.

And don’t we already know what the answers are? Do your 10,000 steps, cut down on alcohol, avoid processed and refined foods, walk to the shops, do resistance training.

Yeah, yeah – but bear in mind that exercise on its own, in midlife, is only going to have very limited impact. The chief way of shifting that spare tyre is to eat less. John Speakman, professor of biological sciences at the University of Aberdeen and one of the paper’s senior authors, has said, “At any age you can only lose weight by eating less calories. Weight maintenance is easier if you are more active but doing more physical activity to cause weight loss seems fairly useless.”

Come on, I’ve been living on salad these past few years. I’m sure I don’t eat any more than I used to! There must be something else…

Well Speakman has suggested we might be able to blame our guts. He said: “It could be that as we go through middle age our guts become better at digesting the food we eat. While we may be eating the same amount of food, our guts are absorbing more of it, so we are in a slight positive energy balance.”

Also, this study only investigated metabolic rate. There may be other changes – hormonal, for instance, in menopausal women – that affect our distribution of fat and weight.

You can’t, surely, be saying that it should be quite possible to stay the same weight in our fifties as we were in our twenties?

Pretty much. Speakman says, “Many people don’t gain weight in midlife. And I think it’s clear that it doesn’t inevitably have to happen.”


More exercise in midlife linked to better brain health in later life – study

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992