Aging and weight gain

Why Does Aging Cause Weight Gain

Most of us think that as we grow older weight gain is inevitable, and we are unable to maintain a young looking body. This however might not be the case, Such thinking characterizes our general idea about what we consider to be “normal” aging.

Apart from weight gain, other popular misguided beliefs are that about bones, mental clarity, muscle mass. In statistical sense this might be true however biologically its not always the case.

The first thing to tackle here is the fundamental misconception of losing weight, People want to lose weight not because of health reasons but to achieve a goal. People want to look better, fit into clothing, move more easily, feel more energetic or improve health. These things are not achieved by losing weight.

Weight loss comes from a lifestyle change not over months but on a daily basis.

Body Fat Composition

What makes us look fat or older is essentially our body composition, which is basically the ratio of muscle to fat. Human aging is characterized by changes in the body composition, were more fat is deposited compared to muscle.

CT studies demonstrate that as we age, subcutaneous fat (below the skin, SF) decreases and visceral fat (in abdominal cavity, VF) increases. The enemy we should be worried about is the Visceral form of fat because this type surrounds our organs and results in systemic inflammation. Apart from that VF is a risk factor for coronary artery disease, stroke and cancer.

Muscle loss is another factor that contributes to aging associated fat gain. As we age the amount of muscle that we have declines leading to less calorie burn and more weight gain. This however can be overcome by constant weight training.

The increasing level of Visceral Fat and loss of muscle mass results in an increased risk of insulin resistance. As our body becomes less sensitive to insulin, the more insulin the body secretes. This compensatory mechanism leads to a host of problems. Insulin is a storage hormone, resulting in the uptake of glucose and fat production while inhibiting the loss of calories from body stores.

In order to address the problem of weight gain and muscle loss, the main problems which are caloric intake and muscle mass should be addressed. The good thing about preventing age related weight gain is that we can control it our selves. Problems with body composition, like most contemporary health issues, are almost always caused by Lifestyle.

In order to solve this problem we need to learn when we eat, sleep and move. This is as important as the quantity and quality of food and exercise.

Time when to eat and exercise

Humans evolved on a Planet called Earth. One important truth we need to accept and understand is that planet rotates around a mass called the sun. This creates circadian cycles or Day and Night Shifts.

Metabolism like with anything in our body evolved with these cycles, with most of our eating, hunting and gathering being done during the Day. This made us humans excel at being active in the mornings while the night was designed for sleep, fasting and accessing stored energy for regeneration and repair.

Every cell in our bodies operates on these principals and each cell has in its self and internal clock. This metabolic process operates the physiology of our bodies Turning on and off the various genes involved in metabolism.

How Does The Body Clock Get Set?

The main regulator of our body clock is light and food. The light we perceive helps to regulate our brains and sets our wake and sleep cycles. On the other hand food helps to regulate the feeding and fasting cycles of the cells.

As the sun starts to set the hormone Melatonin (hormone of Darkness) is secreted from the  pineal gland inducing a circadian cycle and sleep. Traditionally, melatonin was considered primarily as a sleep cure.

Recent studies have not shown that Melatonin acts on various metabolic functions. Its dis regulation by factors like aging, shift-work or illuminated environments during the night, induces insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, sleep disturbance, and metabolic circadian disorganization leading to obesity. [1]

Melatonin exerts its effect on weight by modulating the action of several key hormones such as insulin, ghrelin and leptin. These hormones are involved in appetite, satiety, calorie uptake and fat storage.

Animals who have had the pineal gland removed become indeed overweight. Timed administration of melatonin reverses the weight gain.

In addition, middle-aged fat animals given melatonin and studied to old age showed decreased weight and visceral fat. These changes were eliminated if melatonin was withheld.

What About Eating At Night?

Just like Light food intake sets the body clock to an ‘active phase’. The night time fast, like darkness, sets our clock to resting metabolic mode. Here is were our society is failing the most.

Dining after dark goes against our original biology. It provides strong signals to keep the body in its active phase. This signal is not easily extinguished when you go to bed a few hours later.

This disconnection from nature’s clock is now considered an important cause of our struggle with weight gain. The solution is limiting our eating to a period of a maximum of 10 hours per day, mostly connect to the day time cycle.

Improved metabolic tuning has been shown to decrease various problems such as inflammation, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep disorders and depression.

Eating

When and what you eat is critical to muscle growth and maintenance, the idea here is that weight problems are body composition problems. The goal here is not just loosing weight but also increasing muscle mass and shifting the fat storage from visceral to subcutaneous.

A hallmark of aging is Muscle atrophy which is the imbalance between muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown. Muscle work and protein consumption both act as powerful stimuli for muscle protein synthesis or anabolism.

The good thing is that whether you are 9 or 90, the body maintains its ability to build new muscle throughout life. However, the problem with old muscle is that it has a blunted response to anabolic stimuli. You therefore need more protein to stimulate muscle maintenance and growth. For a 75Kg person one would need around 60g of protein per day. Which would be a 20g scoop 3 times a day.

Now when you exercise is also crucial. Ideally exercise is performed as close as possible to these feeding times in order to obtain an optimal muscle stimulation and growth.

Workout for body composition

The type of exersice needed effects the outcomes achieved. Current Research inticates that low load and high intensity lifting at around 30% of one repetition max (1RM) to failure can elicit similar rates of muscle synthesis as traditional, high load low intensity lifting. 

Data suggests that low and high load lifting performed to failure can yield an equivalent stimulus resulting in hypertrophy over time. So exercise volume (REPS x SETS x LOAD) can achieve maximal muscle fiber activation, including the important larger type II fibers.

This is also much less likely to cause injury, an important consideration at any age.

reference

  1. Cipolla-Neto J, Amaral FG, Afeche SC, Tan DX, Reiter RJ. Melatonin, energy metabolism, and obesity: a review. J Pineal Res. 2014 May;56(4):371-81. doi: 10.1111/jpi.12137. Epub 2014 Apr 5. PMID: 24654916.

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