Q: I'VE ALWAYS BEEN active, and I don't eat any more than I used to, but year after year (I'm 65 now) I gain a few pounds! Why does that happen? ¬-- Elsie K., Fort Wayne, Ind.
A: THERE ARE A lot of possible explanations. Your metabolic rate may have slowed, in large part because you're not expending as much physical energy as before. Take a look at time spent exercising and simply moving around (that accounts for a lot of calories burned). And your eating habits may have changed. Have you gotten tired of cooking, so you're eating prepared foods or going out? That amps up calorie intake right away. You also may be insulin-resistant and not know it, which can make you vulnerable to an increased appetite and packing on a few pounds. Ask your doctor to check and see if any other health issues are affecting your weight. But if there are no hidden factors, your weight gain may have to do with the color of your fat.
A new study reveals that as we age, our brown fat — that's the good kind — becomes less thermogenic, generating less heat, burning fewer calories and becoming less effective at helping to regulate insulin use and glucose uptake; all of that makes it harder to lose and easier to gain weight. Another result: an increase in stores of white fat around your belly and thighs. This type of fat contributes to inflammation, insulin resistance, dementia and heart disease.
But you're never too old to achieve a younger RealAge by preventing or reversing age-related weight creep. The key is to increase aerobic exercise and, especially, strength training. You'll decrease insulin resistance, burn disease-promoting visceral belly fat (white) and — this is the really cool part — turn some of your white fat brown (or at least beige). Our suggestion: Sweat at least three times a week for 60 minutes: Try walking (every 10 minutes, kick in an intense pace for 2.5 minutes), swimming, cycling, jogging or playing tennis. Do strength/muscle building two to three times a week for 30 minutes with stretch bands and hand weights; or combine aerobics with muscle-building in a kickboxing or spin class.