How to Avoid Age-Related Weight Gain

Explore personalized approaches to nutrition, lifestyle, and physical activity to maintain a healthy weight as you age. Learn effective strategies for preventing age-related weight gain.

Diana Licalzi
By Diana Licalzi
Lucia Gcingca
Edited by Lucia Gcingca

Updated April 9, 2024.

A man and woman stretching on the floor in front of a tablet.

Ever wonder why we tend to gain weight as we get older? Or why it becomes harder to lose any pounds we put on over the holidays or while on vacation? As we get older, we gain an average of one to two pounds per year. [1] This may not seem like a lot, but over time, it can accumulate and lead to weight gain or even obesity.

Overview of age and weight maintenance

Although weight gain naturally tends to occur with age, fortunately, you can take action to delay or prevent the process by:

  • Incorporating two to three weight-bearing exercise sessions each week to delay age-related muscle loss. 
  • Increasing your protein intake above the recommended levels. Try consuming 1.0-1.2g of protein per kilogram of your body weight to help with muscle synthesis. 
  • Testing your blood regularly to maintain healthy hormone levels.
  • Revving up your metabolism by incorporating HIIT workouts, prioritizing sleep, and sipping on green tea.
  • Incorporating daily activities such as walking, a standing desk, and dynamic stretches to avoid sitting for hours. 
  • Using meditation, yoga, and exercise to counteract stressful times. 
A diagram of the effects of age related to weight gain.

Why do we gain weight as we get older?

There are four major reasons why age plays a role in weight management:

  • Muscle loss and decreased lipid turnover
  • Hormonal changes
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Slower metabolism

Each of the factors above contributes to the gradual weight gain experienced with age. However, the good news is that there are effective strategies to intervene and counteract them.

As we age, our bodies undergo natural changes that impact muscle synthesis and metabolism. Understanding the implications of these changes is crucial for overall health and well-being.

Sarcopenia and muscle loss

In our 30s, physiological processes start to decelerate, leading to a gradual breakdown of muscle mass, averaging 3-8% per decade [2]. This aging-related phenomenon, known as sarcopenia, becomes more pronounced around the age of 60. Interestingly, this process often involves the replacement of lost muscle with fat—a tissue that demands less energy.

» Curious about the physiological changes of aging? See what to expect and how to promote longevity

Fat turnover rate with age

Scientists also recently discovered that lipid (fat) turnover rate declines with age. This rate is how fast or slow fat is removed and stored in the body. In the 2019 study, researchers followed 54 individuals over 13 years. Regardless of whether they gained or lost weight during the timeframe, all of them exhibited a slower fat turnover rate with age.

» Discover why you need to avoid high visceral fat

We can actively slow down the rate of muscle loss and increase fat turnover by focusing on exercise, especially weight-bearing and resistance exercises that stimulate muscle growth. To complement muscle synthesis, make sure you meet your protein requirements.

Studies show that older adults should eat slightly higher protein than the level that's recommended to preserve muscle and bone mass. [3] This is equal to about 1.0-1.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight each day.

A practical example of meeting protein needs

A 150-pound older adult would need 68-82g of protein per day—the equivalent of a cup of lentils, three eggs, and one 3.5 oz chicken breast. Focus on lean sources of protein like fish, eggs, beans, lentils, tofu, and protein shakes to meet your needs. 

For a complete guide to gaining muscle, check out InsideTracker's Guide to Gaining Muscle. 

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Hormones that help to control weight decline over time

Low estrogen and weight gain

Sex hormones fluctuate with age. Estrogen levels in women drop during menopause, which typically occurs between ages 45-55. Since estrogen helps regulate weight and metabolism, a decline in the hormone may lead to weight gain, typically around the midsection and abdomen. [4]

» Learn why it is harder for women in menopause to lose weight

How low testosterone and DHEAS lead to weight gain

Other hormones like testosterone (in men) and DHEAS (in women) naturally decline over time. Testosterone drops 1-2% each year, starting around the age of 40. Testosterone helps to regulate muscle mass and fat distribution, and as it drops, the body becomes less effective at burning calories. [5]

As with testosterone, DHEAS levels in women decline with age, starting around 20-30. Low levels of DHEAS are also linked to difficulty in controlling weight, as it's a precursor for estrogen.

You can optimize testosterone and DHEAS for your age!

You can measure your testosterone and DHEAS levels with InsideTracker. If your levels are not optimized for your age, InsideTracker provides diet, exercise, and lifestyle interventions to help you improve your levels and maximize your fitness and wellness. 

A diagram of DHEAS over the female life span.

Metabolism becomes slower and less efficient over time

Our metabolism dictates how many calories we need per day to accomplish bodily functions (i.e., digestion, breathing) and daily activities (i.e., physical movements, exercise). Several factors influence our metabolism, including:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Stress
  • Muscle mass
  • Hormones
  • Physical fitness level
  • Nutritional state

How muscle loss leads to a slower metabolic rate

Muscle has a high metabolic rate, meaning it needs more calories to sustain itself and carry out its functions. Since we naturally lose muscle as we age, a decrease in muscle mass also slows our overall metabolism; as previously mentioned, less muscle means fewer calories needed. Failure to adjust our calorie intake will lead to weight gain.

Strategies to boost metabolism

To maintain a fast metabolism, focus on including at least two sessions of strength training each week, prioritize sleep to allow the body time to repair and rebuild its muscles, and sip green tea. Green tea contains a specific compound that has been associated with an increase in energy expenditure and fat burn. [6]

If time permits, try squeezing in a few high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts a few times per week.  HIIT workouts increase post-exercise oxygen consumption, fat oxidation, and metabolic rate. [7, 8]

» Uncover the benefits of exercise in preventing accelerated aging

How lifestyle changes affect calorie burn and stress

Common lifestyle changes contribute to lower calorie burn and higher stress as age tends to bring considerable life changes. The demands of a progressing career make it harder to take breaks during the workday, moving to the suburbs turns a walking commute into an hour-long drive, and added responsibilities like children make it harder to get to the gym.

A more sedentary lifestyle becomes the norm. With less day-to-day activity, our bodies need fewer calories. Again, adjusting to this reduced calorie requirement becomes imperative as we grow older.

Stress, cortisol, and weight gain

Greater responsibilities are often accompanied by increased stress. During stressful situations, the body releases a steroid hormone called cortisol. Unfortunately, sustained, elevated levels of cortisol can also lead to an increase in body fat.

» Want to lose weight? Learn how paying attention to your bloodwork might help

Strategies for healthier aging

  • Work environment: Integrate a standing desk, set reminders for short walks, opt for standing phone calls, and initiate walking meetings to infuse activity into work routines.

  • Home habits: Use TV breaks for movement, incorporate dynamic stretches into daily chores, and aim for 10,000 daily steps to enhance overall physical activity.

  • Stress coping: Mitigate stress through daily meditation, yoga, sufficient sleep, and tools like InsideTracker for cortisol level monitoring, ensuring optimal well-being.

Proactive strategies for healthy aging and weight management

As we age, weight management becomes increasingly challenging—however, there are proactive measures that can be taken to counteract these effects.

By understanding the implications of age-related changes in body composition and taking proactive steps to address them, we can promote overall health and well-being as we grow older.




[3] Byrd-Bredbenner, Carol. Wardlaw's Perspectives in Nutrition. McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.



[6] Hursel R, Viechtbauer W, Dulloo AG, Tremblay A, Tappy L, Rumpler W, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. “The effects of catechin rich teas and caffeine on energy expenditure and fat oxidation: a meta-analysis.” Obes Rev. 2011 Jul;12(7):e573-81.

[7] Chan HH, Burns SF. “Oxygen consumption, substrate oxidation, and blood pressure following sprint interval exercise.” Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2013 Feb;38(2):182-7.

[8] Wingfield HL, Smith-Ryan AE, Melvin MN, Roelofs EJ, Trexler ET, Hackney AC, Weaver MA, Ryan ED. “The acute effect of exercise modality and nutrition manipulations on post-exercise resting energy expenditure and respiratory exchange ratio in women: a randomized trial.” Sports Med Open. 2015 Jun;2. pii: 11.