For many of us, life gets better—easier, even—with age. We get more comfortable and confident in our own skin, we know what we like and what we want. Some things, like losing weight after 60, don’t get easier over time. In fact, the latter can feel quite difficult.
Although weight can be a measure of health, it is not the only measure of health, and the number on the scale doesn’t tell the entire story of what’s going on inside. Aspects like heart health, lean muscle mass, and bone health are important factors to consider when supporting your overall wellness.
Is it possible to lose weight at 60 years old?
Yes, but it takes an understanding of your overall health. If you do want to maintain a healthy weight over 60, there are some steps you can take to support your goal.
For starters, it’s important more than ever to actually talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen. “Medical problems, such as heart disease and metabolic disease, become more common after age 60, so it’s much more important to have a medical checkup before attempting a fat loss plan,” says Robert Huizenga, M.D. an internist and associate professor of clinical medicine at UCLA.
Why is it difficult to lose weight after 60?
Maintaining a healthy weight in your younger years tends to be a bit easier, thanks to many of us living a more active lifestyle and having more energy to bop around (and thus, burn more calories). As we age, many of us tend to live a more sedentary lifestyle, which can result in weight gain over time.
Additionally, muscle mass tends to decline as we age, potentially resulting in the body’s declining ability to burn more calories when in a state of rest.
Finally, hormonal changes that naturally occur as all people age can negatively affect weight management goals. A reduction in estrogen for females and a drop in testosterone for males may make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight.
Then there’s the fact that oxygen intake declines rapidly with age. This might make it tougher time to take deep breaths while you’re exercising. That’s why it’s crucial to ease into a new exercise routine.
The best ways to lose weight over 60
Keep reading for realistic, actionable tips for feeling your best after 60.
1. Focus on your health instead of numbers on the scale.
During this time, you want to focus on building more muscle instead of decreasing the number on the scale. “At advanced ages, you cannot afford to lose muscle, organ tissue, or bone mass,” says Dr. Huizenga. Lifting weights (even if they’re light!) is important as you get older because you lose a percentage of muscle every year. This affects your metabolism and ability to get rid of body fat. With age, your bones also become more at risk for fractures, especially if you’re post-menopausal, which is due to lower estrogen levels—a hormone that plays a role in maintaining bone mass. But by creating pressure on your joints through weight-bearing exercises, you can actually help build stronger, healthier bones. So instead of focusing on what the scale says, turn your energy and attention into adopting a new strength training routine, which brings us to our next point.
2. Add strength training to your workout routine.
Muscle loss equals a slower metabolism, which can impact health as you age. But lifting weights can help rev up your metabolism by building muscle mass.
If you don’t have a consistent weight training regimen, you’ll want to start slowly. It’s also worth working with a personal trainer who provides a custom strength training plan. Easing in will give your body time to adapt without placing too much strain on your muscles or joints and help you avoid injury, says Dr. Huizenga.
But don’t get too comfortable with an easy resistance training program. It’s important to gradually increase the amount of weight you lift. “It’s critical that significant resistance exercise be incorporated into any fat loss plan over age 60,” he adds. Once you can do 10 to 12 reps with a 5-lb dumbbell and feel like you could keep going, it’s time to upgrade to an 8-lb weight, and so forth. “You know you’re lifting the right amount of weight if you can just barely make it to the end of your repetitions before needing to rest,” he says.
3. Stay hydrated.
Of course, this is a tip for anyone trying to focus on their health, but it’s especially important as we get older. That’s because as we age, the hypothalamus, which controls our hunger and thirst, becomes desensitized, dulling our thirst signals, says Matt Essex, founder of ActiveRx Aging Centers in Arizona. “Plus, many older people avoid drinking water so they can avoid running to the bathroom constantly,” adds Christen Cooper, R.D., a dietitian in Pleasantville, NY. “This is especially true for men with prostate issues and women with bladder limitations.”
Since water is key for digestion and metabolism, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough. Our bodies can easily mistake thirst for hunger, which causes us to eat more than we actually need. Consider purchasing a water bottle with a timeline tracker to remind you when you need to take swigs throughout the day.
4. Get enough protein in your diet.
If ever there was a time to focus on getting enough lean protein in your diet, it’s now. “There is some evidence that older adults need more protein,” says Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., senior director of worldwide nutrition education and training at Herbalife. Aim to get roughly 30 grams of protein at each meal, and more if you tend to crave carb-rich foods.
“In my practice, I notice that dietary patterns tend to shift somewhat with age, and as people get older, the calories that were once spent on lean protein might now be spent on carbohydrates or fats,” says Bowerman. Not only does adequate protein help support muscle growth and repair, but it’s also more satiating than carbs and fats, meaning you’ll be less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks, Bowerman says.
5. Be patient.
Many of us become less active as we age, which can make it harder to maintain a healthy weight or build lean muscle mass. But even though it may take longer than expected to see progress if you are adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle habits, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. “Keep your focus on the healthy behaviors you’re adopting in order to achieve your goal, rather than your frustration if it’s not happening right away,” says Bowerman. If you stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan, over time, you should see the results you want.
6. Stretch often.
The more flexible you are, the more you will enjoy any physical activity you do and the less chance you’ll have of injury, says Rami Aboumahadi, a certified personal trainer based in Florida. And at 60 years old, a less active lifestyle and an increase in aches and pains can make your flexibility plummet. Consider taking a yoga class or simply adding a few stretches to your day, particularly after you’ve taken a walk or warmed up your muscles in some other way.
7. Think positive.
If you’re constantly thinking “gaining weight is part of the aging process” or “everybody my age is overweight” on repeat, it’s time for new weight-loss mantras, says Cooper. “It’s important to avoid slipping into a mindset that will prevent you from losing weight,” he says. Find a community of people who want to get fit and stay that way so that you surround yourself with as much support as possible. Perhaps you can find a walking group, take a group fitness class, or talk a few friends into joining you for water aerobics at the local pool. “Too often, what limits us from achieving our weight loss goals is all psychological,” says Cooper.
Another suggestion is to shift your mindset from how your body looks to how your body feels. Eating well, exercising, and stretching should result in you feeling more energized, and your heart health, bone health, and brain health should reap benefits.
8. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Eating enough produce is something that many of us are not doing, with only around 10% of Americans actually consuming the recommended servings of fruits and veggies every day. Data shows that, among a population of Canadian adults with an age range of 35 to 69 years old, those who ate more produce tend to carry less body fat.
9. Prioritize quality sleep
Sleep may not be top-of-mind when it comes to weight management, but more data is showing that not getting adequate sleep is linked to people eating more calories, which can lead to weight gain. And a study published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that, among an adult population, better sleep health was associated with greater weight loss. Limiting your exposure to screens before bed, keeping your bedroom dark and cool, and ensuring that not going to bed too late can help you get the important shut-eye that your body needs.
Lauren Manaker M.S., R.D.N., L.D., is an award-winning registered dietitian, three-time book author, and freelance writer who specializes in women’s health, wellness, and lifestyle trends. Along with being a regular contributor to various health-focused outlets like EatThis.com, VeryWell Health, and Eating Well, she manages her Instagram account @LaurenLovesNutrition, where she shares evidence-based nutrition information in an approachable way.