Why Your Daily Calorie Need Decreases with Age

Senior Couple Having Breakfast
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It's a fact of life that as you age, your body needs fewer calories. It's kind of a bummer, but there are ways to deal with it and still enjoy some of your favorite foods.

First, why does this happen?

It's all about your metabolism, which is your body's ability to break down nutrients and convert them into energy or store them as fat when you take in more energy than you burn. A lot of your metabolism has to do with muscle mass.

Since muscle cells are busy moving your body around and doing things, they require energy, whereas fat cells basically just sit there doing nothing except storing fat. 

In general, a man has more muscle than a woman of the same weight so he will have a higher metabolism. And, of course, age makes a significant difference too.

When you're a teenager or in your twenties, your metabolism is relatively high. But, around age 30, you start to lose a little bit of muscle and put on a bit more fat. You may not notice it much at first, but as you get older your muscle mass will decrease even more, and your metabolism will slow down because of it.

The loss of muscle reduces the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight, and if you continue to eat the same amount of calories every day without changing your level of physical activity, you'll gradually gain fat.

A pound or two a year may not seem like much at first, but over the years, the weight can add up, and you can run the risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Prevent Weight Gain as You Age

You can't turn back the clock and become young again, but gaining unwanted weight doesn't need to be inevitable if you put forth the effort. Here's what you can do about it:

Stay active (or get active). Increased physical activity can help you maintain your weight. Resistance exercises like weight lifting can increase your muscle mass, which may increase your metabolism and number of calories burned.

It also increases your strength and overall fitness. Aerobic activities such as running or walking burn calories while you're moving. They're also good for your heart health.

Count your calories. Calculate your daily calorie need with the Harris-Benedict formula. Or make it easier to keep track of the calories you consume by joining Calorie Count. You may also want to invest in a kitchen scale until you become comfortable with estimating the serving sizes of the foods you eat.

Watch what you eat. Although you may need fewer calories, you still need to get your daily vitamin and mineral needs met. Choose nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and green and colorful vegetables that are low in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals. Lean protein sources such as fish and seafood are low in calories and contain omega-3 fatty acids that many diets are lacking. Make sure you get plenty of high fiber foods (non-starchy vegetables, whole fruits, legumes, and 100-percent whole grain products).

Watch your alcohol intake. Alcohol has more calories per ounce than carbohydrates or proteins but has no other nutritional value.

Plus it's often combined with sweetened mixers that add even more calories.

Sources:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Nutrition and Active Living for Healthy Aging." Accessed June 22, 2016. http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=3300.

The United States Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020." Accessed June 22, 2016. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.

The United States Department of Agriculture. "Lift Weights to Lift Aging Metabolism, Lower Weight Gain." Accessed June 22, 2016. http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2001/010111.htm.

United States Natural Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. "MedlinePlus: Aging Changes in Body Shape." Accessed June 22, 2016. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003998.htm.

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