July 15, 2024

Going on a weight loss journey at any age takes dedication and grit, but losing weight after 60 often comes with its own unique set of challenges. If you’re in this age bracket, dropping pounds may not feel as easy now as it did in the past.

The first reason? Muscle loss. “Studies show that people lose a lot of muscle mass with age for a wide variety of reasons,” says Colleen Tewksbury, PhD, MPH, RD, an assistant professor of nutrition science and obesity treatment specialist at Penn Medicine. “The less lean body mass you have, the few calories you burn and the harder it’s going to be to create a calorie deficit and lose weight.”

Even so, you can still see major changes in body composition after 60. “We have found that it is no harder for older individuals to lose weight compared to younger people with over 600 persons in our weight loss studies,” says Sue Shapses, PhD, RDN, a weight loss researcher and professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

In this chapter of life, being strategic with how you approach weight loss can help make a difference on the scale. From targeted strength workouts to prioritizing high protein meals, here’s what doctors and nutrition experts recommend for losing weight after 60.

Meet the experts: Colleen Tewksbury, PhD, MPH, RD, is an assistant professor of nutrition science and obesity treatment specialist at Penn Medicine. Mir Ali, MD, is the medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center. Sue Shapses, PhD, RDN, is a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Steven K. Malin, PhD, is a metabolism researcher and associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Why is it so hard to lose weight after 60?

As you get older, your body tends to hold onto less lean muscle mass. The problem with that is that lean muscle mass burns calories and impacts your metabolism. When you have less lean muscle mass, “you need fewer calories to maintain your weight—that’s where the difficulty comes in,” says Mir Ali, MD, medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center.

Your diet and eating habits can also make weight loss harder. If you’re eating the same amount as you always have, the food you take in “may be more likely to get stored [as fat] compared to used as energy,” says Steven K. Malin, PhD, a metabolism researcher and the associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Various other factors can impact your ability to lose weight, like hormonal changes, navigating life post-menopause, and health conditions like hypothyroidism, which can induce weight gain. That said, it is possible to lose weight over 60. Here’s how.

13 Tips to Help You Lose Weight Over 60

1. Get aerobic exercise.

    Aerobic exercise—walking, cycling, swimming, and more—increases the amount of calories you burn, Malin says. “Also, the ‘afterburn’ effect, as it is commonly referred to, is also higher from aerobic exercise when done at moderate to high intensity,” he says. Meaning, you can burn calories even after you’re done working out. Exercise can also indirectly help with weight loss by promoting good sleep, Tewksbury says. That can help you feel re-energized and ready to tackle the next workout, as well as lower stress levels, she says. Note: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical exercise.

    2. Start strength training.

    Lifting weights and doing resistance exercises can help combat the loss of lean muscle mass, Tewksbury says. Not sure where to start? She suggests talking to a personal trainer (most gyms have one you can consult for free) for ideas. Aim to do strength training at least twice a week for the best results, per the CDC’s recommendation.

    3. Try to avoid processed foods.

    This is a tried-and-true weight loss tip for anyone who wants to shed extra pounds. “Studies show there is a higher percent body fat in those who consume ultra-processed foods,” Shapses says. Ultra-processed foods are also linked to a higher risk of several diseases, she adds.

    That said, it can be difficult to cut back on how many of these foods you eat, Tewksbury says, especially if you’re 60 and up and have been accustomed to a specific diet for a while. “Many people may eat more unintentionally when they’re served them,” she says. If you’re struggling to moderate processed foods, start slow and be patient with the process—after all, the goal is sustainable weight loss.

    4. Keep a food journal.

    Sure, not everyone is into writing down everything they eat, but experts say it can be eye-opening and helpful for weight loss. “A food journal is a great way to self-monitor to see how much you’re eating,” Tewksbury says. It can also help you see how full you feel after eating certain foods and for how long, she says.

    5. Drink lots of water.

    Dehydration tends to be more common older adults, Shapses says, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that their water intake is “significantly lower” than other adult age groups. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommends that men aim to get 15.5 cups of fluids a day and that women try to get 11.5 cups daily (from both food and liquids). Also, your brain can mistake your thirst cues for being hungry, so if you frequently have the urge to snack, it may be time to up your water intake.

    6. Enjoy healthy snacks.

    That said, snacking on its own isn’t bad, Malin says. Instead, it’s what you snack on and how much you have. “If snacks fall within the total caloric needs of the person, then it is generally OK,” he says. “Snacking on fruits and vegetables, nuts, dairy, and whole grain carbohydrates could be a practical option for people to get adequate fiber and protein throughout the day.” Just take a pass on having things like refined carbs—they can make you feel even hungrier and raise the risk that you’ll overeat later in the day.

    7. Load up on fiber.

    Fiber “can really help slow down digestion and keep people feeling fuller, longer,” Malin says. Try reaching for fiber-rich foods like leafy greens, broccoli, oats, and nuts and seeds to help. The daily recommended intake is 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men—aim to hit that.

    8. Get plenty of protein.

    Having good protein intake while you’re on a diet lowers the risk of losing lean body mass and can even improve the quality of the rest of your diet, according to Shapses’ research published in Obesity. She recommends aiming to have one to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight (one kilogram is about 2.2 pounds).

    9. Manage your stress levels.

    Sure, this is easier said than done—but stress can work against your weight loss goals. “Stress often leads to insulin resistance. Insulin is an important hormone that can act on the brain to stimulate metabolism after meals as well as suppress appetite,” Malin says. “But in insulin-resistant states, the body tries to compensate by making more insulin. This can lead to more favorable situations to store fat.”

    Being super stressed also spikes cortisol, which can hinder weight loss after 60. “Some work suggests if cortisol levels are chronically elevated, this can lead the body to make more adipocytes or fat tissue, thereby leading one to gain weight,” Malin says.

    10. Get plenty of (quality) sleep.

    Sleep can set you up for success in a wide range of areas of your life, including weight loss efforts, Tewksbury says. But lack of sleep can also work against you, Malin says. “A lack of sleep is generally thought to create shifts in stress hormones that favor appetite,” he says. The CDC currently recommends that adults 60+ aim to have seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

    11. Count your steps.

    Although there isn’t an exact number of steps a day guaranteed to cause weight loss, experts generally suggest tracking your step count because it’s an easy way to see how active you’ve been over the course of your day or week. “Some studies support using this approach to increase daily activity and contribute to more total energy expenditure,” Malin says.

    12. Prep nourishing meals.

    A plant-based diet like the Mediterranean diet is best for weight loss, Dr. Ali says, but it can be tough to eat healthy when you’re pressed for time. That’s why Shapses recommends doing meal prep. “If you prepare your own foods, you typically reduce use of processed foods that are associated with higher sugar and fat, lower fiber and fewer fresh vegetables and fruits,” she says.

    13. Lean on your support system.

    Losing weight is marathon, not a spring—and it’s easier when you have people cheering you on and providing support along the way. This can mean having your family and friends support you, joining a community with similar health goals, talking to a doctor, or enlisting the help of a registered dietitian. “Don’t do it alone,” Tewksbury says.

    Headshot of Korin Miller

    Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to own a teacup pig and taco truck one day.

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