Why Does It Get Harder to Manage Your Weight as You Age?

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
October 18, 2019
Why is is tougher to manage weight as you age

As we age, it becomes increasingly difficult for most of us to manage our weight. Because our metabolism slows, our muscles wane and our hormones deplete, we expect to gain some weight. But if you’re eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and limiting your caloric intake, the scale shouldn’t continue to rise, right?

Unfortunately, it often does. But European researchers think they may have figured out a significant piece of the weight management puzzle. The rate in which the fat in fat cells is removed and eliminated decreases as you age, making it easier to gain weight, regardless of your lifestyle, according to a study published in Nature Medicine.

Researchers from Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University in Sweden and University of Lyon in France studied fat cells of 54 men and women for an average of 13 years. They found the fat tissue turnover rate slowed over the 13 years, regardless of whether participants gained or lost weight. Participants who didn’t cut their calories to compensate for the decreasing fat turnover rate gained an average of 20 percent of their weight. 

Researchers also wanted to see if this held true for post-bariatric surgery weight loss. So, they also studied 41 women who underwent bariatric surgery to determine how well the women were able to keep their weight off four to seven years after surgery. They found the fat turnover rate increased among women who had a low fat-turnover rate before the surgery, helping them maintain their weight loss. 

What does this mean? Let’s start with understanding fat. Fat is a crucial component of our body. Fat cells absorb and store fat molecules, fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), hormones, toxins and pollutants. They help provide energy, keep us warm, protect internal organs, insulate nerves, store nutrients and contribute to immune system functioning. Fat also creates cellular membranes and delivers messages that bind to proteins, allowing various reactions. 

Fat cells get a bad rap because you can’t get rid of them. The number of fat cells you have as a teenager remains with you the remainder of your life. Even if you lose weight, your fat cells shrink, but never go away. In fact, your body is so stubborn about keeping the number of fat cells consistent, that if one dies, your body produces another one to replace it. 

As you diet, your fat cells will release fat tissue into the bloodstream where it is broken down into smaller molecules and excreted via the kidneys or lungs, causing you to lose weight. It’s this process – the fat tissue turnover – that slows down as you age, making it more and more difficult to control weight.

“This study may be small but it’s quite significant for understanding why we gain weight as we age,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “And it could lead to more research, as well as the development of screenings to detect a low-fat turnover rate and medications to raise it.”

As of now, exercise seems to be the only way to raise fat tissue turnover rates, according to researchers. And exercising can help improve bariatric surgery outcomes.

Talk to your doctor before beginning or changing your workout routine. If you do not have a doctor, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. MDVIP doctors have the time to work with you to help you develop a personalized wellness program that includes exercise. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »  


This blog was reviewed on October 20, 2021.

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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