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Why we get fat as we grow older

Eating habits make the difference
Eating habits make the difference
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

DEAR JIM: I have to admit that, although I read your columns regularly, I haven’t been very good about following your advice. I’m 59, and I find myself gaining more and more weight every year for no apparent reason – about 4-5 lbs every year for the past five years! I have never been very physically active, but my eating habits haven’t changed in the past thirty years, so why am I gaining weight? FRUSTRATED IN FRUITVALE

DEAR FRUSTRATED: Welcome to reality. You don’t burn up calories like you used to because your metabolism is slowing down as you grow older. Now we know why.

A new study – published in the January edition of the FASEB Journal, the thermogenic (calorie-burning) activity of brown fat is reduced as we grow older. Brown fat? It’s the “good” fat stored in the back of our necks that helps burn the “bad” fat around our midsections.

“A common complaint is that older people have to work twice as hard with their diets and exercise to get half of the results of younger people,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “Now we have a much better idea why this is the case: Our brown fat stops working as we age.”

The solution? Probably not what you want to hear, my dear.

“Unfortunately, until a way to turn it back on is developed,” adds Weissman, “we’ll have to be prepared to eat more salads and lean proteins, while logging more miles on the treadmill than our younger counterparts.”

So, while your eating habits may have allowed you to maintain your weight for many years, it might be time to re-evaluate what you are eating and throw a little exercise into the equation. Or the future looks very hefty.