Midlife spread: Can you blame a slow metabolism?

Plenty of Canadians have put on pandemic pounds during COVID-19. In fact, according to a study from Dalhousie University, of the 42 per cent who say they’ve gained weight, four in ten report an increase of six to 10 pounds. 

This isn’t good news, especially for midlifers who already struggle with added pounds as they age. Many of them believe that a sluggish metabolism is what’s to blame for their thickening middle. A new report, pooling data from more than 40 studies involving 6,400 participants and published in Science magazine, offers new insights into how our metabolism functions as we get older. 

The report found that metabolism, the process our body uses to convert food to energy, is quite stable throughout adulthood and middle age and doesn’t actually start declining until about age 60.

This might come as a surprise to anyone who has gained weight after age 40, thinking it was due to a slowing metabolism. 

But this isn’t the case. Weight gain can be the result of a myriad of factors, ranging from a change in lifestyle, diet, exercise levels, hormones, a medical condition and even the social determinants of health, such as access to quality health care and economic stability. 

People want to know if there’s anything they can do to increase their metabolism later in life. Some even seek out faddish products, such as caffeine and ephedrine, which are marketed as “metabolism-boosting,” but are not backed by evidence-based research to have any real impact. 

The truth is, metabolism is hard to adjust. The rate at which we change the energy we burn from food is often genetically programmed. It may not be fair, but some people are simply born with a faster metabolism than others.

The factors that control weight gain are tried and true: regular exercise, calorie control, engaging in resistance training, increasing your water and fibre intake, reducing stress, cutting back on sugar and getting plenty of rest. 

If you are concerned about your weight gain, don’t blame your metabolism, which is something over which you have little control. Instead, try to understand why you are adding pounds and figure out a way to create a sustainable weight loss plan that works for you over the long-term. Physicians trained in obesity medicine can help you get to the root of the reasons for the weight gain and determine the lifestyle changes will help you feel and look your best.