Those first gray hairs bummed you out. So did the eye wrinkles that seemed to show up out of nowhere. But at least you saw those changes coming.
What you didn’t anticipate was that as the years pass, your body would start transforming into something completely different. We don’t mean gaining or losing a few pounds. We’re talking about real shifts in the way our bodies are composed. You know… the pair turns into an apple.
If your 30’s are in the rear-view mirror, you’re probably familiar, and it can be unsettling. We’ll tell you why body shape changes happen, and let you know what impact your decisions can have on these unwanted changes.
Loss of Muscle
One of the biggest reasons that our body shape changes with age is the loss of muscle.
Our major muscle groups hold everything together, creating our posture and giving us form and function.
Aside from holding things in place, muscle also makes up a significant amount of what we are. In fact, in a healthy adult, 40%-50% of body weight will be from muscle.
But as we age, muscle starts to disappear. Research has indicated that we lose about 1% of our muscle mass each year after the age of 30. The loss of this valuable tissue has a cumulative effect on the way our bodies are organized and appear.
Fortunately, muscle loss can be countered fairly effectively. By adding some resistance exercise to your weekly schedule, these losses can be significantly diminished. As little as a couple of 30 minute resistance workouts per week are enough to make a considerable difference.
Men tend to store fat around their bellies, because more of their fat cells are concentrated there. As men age, drops in testosterone make it even easier for fat to be distributed to the middle of the body.
Before the age of 40, women tend to store body fat around the hips, thighs, and buttocks. Weight management can still be a struggle for younger women, but this favorable distribution of body fat makes weight fluctuations more forgiving. But as women age, and especially as they enter the years of menopause, hormone levels begin to change.Lowered levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone cause fat to be stored around the middle of the body. The effects of this shift vary, but in some cases can really alter a woman’s silhouette.
Gravity is great. We’re talking about the principle of physics, not the Sandra Bullock astronaut movie (But the movie’s great too; seriously, see it.) Without gravity we couldn’t have yo-yo’s, or chocolate lava fountains, or waterfalls, or little things like keeping your car from floating away.
Gravity can also be a huge jerk.
Because gravity won’t stop pulling us down, we actually lose height as we age. Men can lose 1-2 inches over their lifetime, and women can lose 1-3, with some of the most significant losses coming in the initial years after menopause.
There’s another way gravity messes with our bodies. Let’s just say that over time, things start to… sag. We'll refrain from saying what exactly starts to sag because we don't want to ruin the surprise if you're not there yet.
What can you do about gravity? When it comes to your height, not much. Astronaut Scott Kelly gained a couple of inches by floating in space for a year. But when back on earth, gravity quickly reclaimed those inches, so probably not a great answer for most of us.
The sagging problem can, however, be greatly reduced by keeping body fat under control. Trim bodies are less vulnerable to the ravages of gravity. Speaking of which…
Hormone shifts may alter where we store fat, but we still have to put it on in order for them to make a difference.
The problem is, that’s exactly what most people tend to do as time goes on. There are plenty of culprits: Reduced physical activity, slowing metabolism, poor dietary choices.
No matter the reason, the single largest cause of of body shape changes is the accumulation of body fat. The bad news is that in the modern world, putting on weight is one of the easiest things you can do. In fact, most people find that they have to work actively to avoid an unhealthy weight.
The good news is that body weight is almost entirely controllable. Through diet and exercise, the single biggest factor in changing body shape can be controlled.
If you’re looking for a good place to start, check out our article where we talk about the one ingredient that may be behind the obesity epidemic plaguing the modern world: Sugar: The Sweetest Mistake