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Why Do We Pack On The Pounds...?

Gender & Weight Control:

Everyone knows that gender and age have a significant influence on our weight. Mostly, we accept this as being part of the normal life cycle. As we grow older, we all expect (or rather dread) to get a bit chubbier each year. Women over 30, in particular, are prone to weight gain - more so than men of the same age.

The explanation for this fact is simple, but interesting.

The phenomenon is due to the particular hormonal balance of the female body. Prior to menopause, a woman's body produces the hormones estrogen and progesterone on a regular basis. High levels of these hormones are known to facilitate weight gain. We all know that pregnancy is often associated with significant weight gain, mostly related to the increased levels of estrogen and progesterone in expectant women. Women who take birth control pills containing a higher amount of estrogen and progesterone may be more prone to weight gain as well.

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However, there is another interesting factor which contributes to weight gain in middle-aged women: It is the decline of testosterone secreted by the ovaries. Yes, ovaries do secrete testosterone in small amounts. The amount of testosterone produced by the ovaries declines with age, especially so after the age of 30. Since testosterone plays a role in building and maintaining muscle mass, the decline in testosterone is associated with a decrease in lean muscle in the female body. Muscle is one of the main tissues that burn calories in the body (even at rest), so loosing muscle mass equals fewer calories burned. In other words, the average woman over 30 experiences a natural slowing of her metabolic rate, due to a progressive muscle loss.
If caloric intake (food and drink) is maintained unchanged, the net result is... well, unfortunately, weight gain.
This can be counteracted by a moderate strength training routine - which helps maintain muscle mass.

So, although it doesn't seem fair, you must keep in mind that men and women are not created equal from this point of view, and women in the prime of their life are unfortunately more susceptible to weight gain than their male counterparts. Yes, weight control is more difficult if you are a woman. Knowing and accepting this fact is key to fighting back.

Another bitter inequality fact: Men generally have more muscle in their body than women, and generally also a higher bone density. Both facts are due to the higher amount of testosterone in the male body. The result is that the overall density of the male body is higher than that of the female body. So, let's say a man weighed the same number of pounds as a woman, and both had the same height: In the male body, however, more of those pounds would be distributed in bone and muscle, whereas in the female body more of those pounds would be distributed in fat tissue. So in conclusion: It's possible for a man and woman to weigh the exact same amount and have the exact same height, while the man looks nice and trim and the woman looks... well, chubby. Injustice or biology? Perhaps a bit of both.

The important part to remember, however, is that a weight figure is far from absolute. A lot depends on the person's muscle status and bone density (which are in direct correlation to the person's fitness level). By the way, did you know that muscle toning exercises are proven to increase not only muscle mass, but also bone density? It is a medical fact - and quite important in fighting osteoporosis.

Bottom line: The higher the bone density and the more muscle there is in the body, the trimmer that person will look at any given weight (since the weight comes more from bone and muscle rather than from fat).

Age & Weight Control:

Let's see now how age interferes with weight control. It's a well-known fact that people tend to pack on the pounds as they age. This phenomenon is so common, it's almost expected. And for the most part, it's accepted as a natural fact of life. But have you ever wondered why this happens? Why do young people burn off calories easier than older people?
  • In part, it's because the basal metabolism is more active during the earlier part of life. Here's why this happens: The higher amount of sexual hormones (in particular testosterone) naturally present in the body of young males and females causes these individuals to build more lean muscle, which results in a higher muscle-to-fat ratio. Since muscle has a higher metabolic rate than other body tissues, a higher muscle ratio determines a more active metabolism. Later in life, as the secretion of sexual hormones declines, lean muscle mass is gradually lost and the basal metabolism naturally slows down.

  • Furthermore, young people tend to be more active (on average) than older people, which contributes to burning off more calories.

  • Finally, it's also possible that on average, younger people may have a somewhat lower food intake as compared to older people.

The unpleasant, but necessary conclusion is that weight control becomes more difficult as we age.

To be more specific: If we continue eating the same amount of food in our 40s and 50s as we did in our 20s and 30s, without increasing our level of physical activity, the result will be an apparently "unjustifiable" weight gain.


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