How to Lose Weight When You're Over 40

Overweight women at gym
M_a_y_a / Getty Images
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Many people experience weight gain once they hit 40, especially around their midsection. Despite a healthy diet and regular exercise, your metabolism starts to slow down and it often becomes harder to lose weight.

You may have experienced that it was easier to maintain a healthy weight when you were younger. There may have been a time when you could eat whatever you wanted, or if you gained weight, you made simple modifications to your diet and ramped up your exercise routine, and easily shed those few extra pounds.

But as we get older, age-related weight gain can affect just about anyone. Fortunately, there are some simple dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to promote weight loss and weight management after 40.

Why You Gain Weight After 40

Age-related weight gain is often genetic. For many people, it's simply a byproduct of getting older. While there are many reasons why people gain weight after 40, here are some common biological factors.

  • Hormones: For most people, their hormones start to change around the mid-30s and into their 40s. This shift, which involves less estrogen production for women and less testosterone production for men, causes fat to start to accumulate around the middle of the body.
  • Genetics: Many people are genetically predisposed to weight gain. Scientists discovered that specific genes determine how many fat cells people have and where they're stored. This is something you can't really change, and if you look at your parents and relatives, you may notice there are certain areas where your family members may tend to store excess fat.
  • Muscle loss: Most people start losing muscle mass by the time they reach their 40s and continue to experience a steady decline as they get older. Researchers believe that the number and size of muscle fibers decline with age and that the motor units that stimulate those fibers fire with less regularity over time. That's why strength training is so often recommended to older adults.
  • Lower metabolism: There are a couple of things that happen to your metabolism after the age of 40. First, your basal metabolic rate (BMR) decreases, and second, you expend less total energy during exercise.

Some research suggests that metabolism can decrease by about 5% for every decade after 40, which means you should consume about 60–100 fewer daily calories every 10 years.

Lifestyle Factors to Consider

Aside from many age-related reasons why weight gain is common after 40, there are other factors that play a role as well. Lifestyle choices, such as what you eat and how much, as well as how often you exercise, are common causes of weight gain. But the good news is that, unlike biology, these lifestyle factors are totally within your control.

Unhealthy Eating Habits

If you're experiencing age-related weight gain, try not to panic or obsess over it. While it can be tempting to follow a restrictive fad diet that promises quick weight loss, those diets are rarely effective in the long term and often lead to weight regain. Rather than fixating on a number on the scale, focus on feeling better from the inside out, which starts by following a healthy, balanced diet filled with nutrient-dense whole foods. Remember, you really are what you eat.

Many people gain weight in their 40s and beyond because of poor diet and lack of nutrition. Studies show that unhealthy eating patterns that rely on heavily processed foods, added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and excess alcohol can contribute to weight gain and obesity.

Cut back on your sugar intake and limit refined carbs and processed foods. Current dietary guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods including colorful fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and healthy fats.

A well-balanced diet rich in essential vitamins and minerals can promote weight management and improve overall health. Choose foods that are high in heart-healthy fiber to help you stay fuller longer and prevent excess snacking or overeating throughout the day.

Excess Calorie Intake

Taking in more calories than you're burning causes weight gain. The USDA recommends a calorie reduction of 500 calories a day for a sustainable rate of weight loss of 1–2 pounds per week. On a typical 2,000 calorie diet, that means cutting back to roughly 1,500 calories a day. However, this number varies based on age, of course, and other factors like sex, weight, height, and level of physical activity.

To create a calorie deficit and lose weight, nutrition experts recommend counting calories. You could maintain a food diary to track your meals and calories. This will show you how many calories you're consuming each day and offer insight as to which foods you might need to cut back on. Sometimes, a little adjustment here and there can help you stay nourished and satisfied without feeling deprived.

To find out how many calories you need to lose or maintain weight, this calorie calculator can give you an estimate of your daily calorie needs.

Too Much Sitting

Advancements in technology have contributed to the widespread prevalence of sedentary lifestyles. There are many health risks associated with too much sitting, particularly cardiovascular disease. Sedentary behaviors during middle age are also associated with weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other forms of chronic disease.

At the bare minimum, try to get up from your desk at least once an hour to stretch your legs and move around. Many people find that standing desks can be a helpful alternative to sitting. To avoid weight gain, adding a couple of walks each day can help you burn a few extra calories while also reducing the risks associated with too much sitting. Try using a pedometer or wearable fitness tracker to see how many steps you can get in each day.

Not Enough Exercise

Not getting enough exercise is a common cause of weight gain as people get older. Most adults are very busy juggling multiple personal and professional responsibilities by the time they hit 40. The busyness of life can often mean that exercise falls by the wayside as other matters take priority. In addition, some people may also be dealing with injuries, illness, fatigue, stress, anxiety, or mental health conditions, which may prevent them from exercising.

But as you age, your body usually needs more exercise to lose and maintain weight. The tricky part is that the body does not always tolerate more strenuous exercise compared to when you were younger, which can make you more susceptible to injury and burnout. That's why it's important to devise a realistic exercise routine you can slowly build upon and stick to for the long term.

Getting enough exercise after 40 helps prevent muscle loss and regulates the body's metabolism. Building muscle can also help prevent weight gain because it's more metabolically active. When you lose muscle, your metabolism will drop.

Focus on what you can control, such as eating a well-balanced diet and getting more exercise. In doing so, you'll experience less stress, better sleep, and even an improvement in your mood. As a bonus, you are also likely to lose some weight and prevent weight gain.

How to Start Exercising After 40

When it comes to age-related weight gain, remember that it's never too late to start exercising. When combined with a healthy, balanced diet, research shows that regular exercise can promote weight loss.

But weight loss shouldn't be the only reason to start exercising. Try to think of exercise as something you're doing for your mental and physical health for the long term. If you take some of the weight loss emphasis out of the exercise equation, it may seem less daunting to get moving.

If you aren't sure where to begin, simply commit to some movement each day, whether it's a brisk walk or a quick cardio class you can stream before work. If you're ready to reap the health benefits of exercise, here are a few strategies to help you get started.

Set a Weekly Exercise Goal

Most people need to exercise more frequently and more vigorously to compensate for age-related weight gain. To maintain optimal health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity each week and strength training at least twice per week. But for additional health benefits, such as weight loss, you might need double that recommendation for cardio, according to the American Heart Association.

If you're brand new to exercise, it's a good idea to start with the basics and work your way up to more vigorous exercise over time. Start with a few weeks of simple cardio and strength training to build the foundation for harder, more intense workouts. How much exercise you need will vary depending on your weight loss goals.

Aim for about 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day, then gradually build from there. This level of exercise can keep your heart healthy and help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. This is a great place to start whether you're just getting into exercise or are coming back to it after a long break. Then after a few weeks, you can progress to more intense workouts as you build strength and endurance.

Be Consistent

While weight loss might require 300 minutes or more of weekly exercise, once you reach your goal weight, you have the option to take a more moderate approach to maintain your fitness. Many people may find that focusing on about 150–250 minutes of exercise each week can be an attainable goal for the long term. Staying consistent with exercise can help prevent weight regain.

Being consistent also means allowing yourself some flexibility. For instance, there may be one week when you only have time to squeeze in 150 minutes, and another week when you might be able to get in your full 300 minutes or more.

However, keep in mind that more exercise isn't always better—overexercising increases the chance of injury, burnout, or overtraining, which can be especially frustrating when you're working toward weight loss goals. So aim for consistency, but be sure to prioritize balance as well.

Listen to your body and back off if you start to feel any physical pain or emotional distress. Prioritize self-care and give your body the rest it needs to recover.

Ramp Up Your Workouts

Whenever you are ready for more rigorous exercise, here are some suggestions for increasing your calorie burn each week.

  • Try high-intensity interval training: Tabata, interval training, or metabolic conditioning workouts are designed to burn more calories and push you a little harder.
  • Do circuit training: Incorporating cardio and strength training together keeps your heart rate elevated, helping you build endurance and strength.
  • Increase time: If you usually work out for 50 minutes, try adding 10 minutes to one or two workouts a week.
  • Increase frequency: Add another day of exercise, or try cardio in the morning followed by strength training later in the day. Just remember to set aside one day each week for rest.
  • Hire a trainer: Working one-on-one with a personal trainer can help hold you accountable and keep you motivated while providing you with personalized guidance for your workouts.
  • Train for a race: You might set a goal to train for an event such as a 5K race or a cycling race. Sometimes having something specific to motivate you to train for can shift your focus away from weight loss as the only goal you're working toward.

If you've been working hard and eating right and are still not seeing any results, contact your doctor. Discuss the possible reasons for your weight gain or weight loss plateau and ask if there are other solutions available to help you meet your goals.

A Word From Verywell

We can only control so much of what happens to our bodies as we age. But it's much easier to find some acceptance of our bodies if we do everything we can to keep them healthy and fit. Do the best you can with the body you have, and nurture it with healthy, nutrient-dense foods and regular exercise.

If you're unsure as to which diet and exercise plan is right for you, ask your healthcare provider for advice. You might also consult with a nutritionist or registered dietitian to help you create an eating plan that's tailored to your unique needs.

Remember, getting older is part of being human, and changes to your body are a natural part of the process. Being kind to yourself as you age may be just what you need as you enter this next phase of your life.

14 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Stenholm S, Vahtera J, Kawachi I, et al. Patterns of weight gain in middle-aged and older US adults, 1992-2010Epidemiology. 2015;26(2):165-168. doi:10.1097/EDE.0000000000000228

  2. Karvonen-Gutierrez C, Kim C. Association of mid-life changes in body size, body composition and obesity status with the menopausal transition. Healthcare (Basel). 2016;4(3):42. doi:10.3390/healthcare4030042

  3. Gabrielli AP, Manzardo AM, Butler MG. Exploring genetic susceptibility to obesity through genome functional pathway analysis. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2017;25(6):1136-1143. doi:10.1002/oby.21847

  4. Keller K, Engelhardt M. Strength and muscle mass loss with aging process. Age and strength loss. Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2013;3(4):346-50.

  5. St-Onge MP, Gallagher D. Body composition changes with aging: The cause or the result of alterations in metabolic rate and macronutrient oxidation? Nutrition. 2010;26(2):152-5. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2009.07.004

  6. Poti JM, Braga B, Qin B. Ultra-processed food intake and obesity: What really matters for health—processing or nutrient content? Curr Obes Rep. 2017;6(4):420-431. doi:10.1007/s13679-017-0285-4

  7. Faruque S, Tong J, Lacmanovic V, Agbonghae C, Minaya DM, Czaja K. The dose makes the poison: sugar and obesity in the united states - a reviewPol J Food Nutr Sci. 2019;69(3):219-233. doi:10.31883/pjfns/110735

  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2020–2025 dietary guidelines for Americans. Ninth Edition.

  9. Park JH, Moon JH, Kim HJ, Kong MH, Oh YH. Sedentary lifestyle: Overview of updated evidence of potential health risksKorean J Fam Med. 2020;41(6):365-373. doi:10.4082/kjfm.20.0165

  10. Swift DL, Johannsen NM, Lavie CJ, Earnest CP, Church TS. The role of exercise and physical activity in weight loss and maintenanceProg Cardiovasc Dis. 2014;56(4):441-447. doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2013.09.012

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need?

  12. Gill LE, Bartels SJ, Batsis JA. Weight management in older adults. Curr Obes Rep. 2015;4(3):379-88. doi:10.1007/s13679-015-0161-z

  13. Boutcher SH. High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss. J Obes. 2011;2011:868305. doi:10.1155/2011/868305

  14. Sperlich B, Wallmann-Sperlich B, Zinner C, Von Stauffenberg V, Losert H, Holmberg HC. Functional high-intensity circuit training improves body composition, peak oxygen uptake, strength, and alters certain dimensions of quality of life in overweight women. Front Physiol. 2017;8:172. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.00172

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."