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Avoid Mid-Life Weight Gain in 5 Simple Steps

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Weight gain can happen to any of us in mid-life for a number of reasons—including genetics, and changes in diet, activity level and medications. The great news: There proven tips for weight loss can help you keep those pounds at bay. By your next birthday, you'll be well on your way to feeling younger—and slimmer—if you keep a few handy tricks in mind all year long.

Slim down with full-fat dairy. Numerous studies suggest that eating full-fat dairy helps block weight after menopause—and doubles the odds of dropping pounds if you're dieting. Dairy's fats, calcium and amino acids help burn blood sugar for fuel before it turns into body fat, University of Tennessee researchers explain. The study-proven dose: Two to three servings daily (a serving is 8 oz. of milk or yogurt, 1-1/2 oz. hard cheese or 1/2 cup cottage cheese).

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Work your "second heart." Surprising research reveals that we each have a specialized calf muscle that plays an extremely important role in helping us stay slim as we age: the soleus calf muscle, which acts as a pump that pushes blood against gravity through the circulatory system and back to the heart. When it begins to weaken, as it often does with age, blood and other fluids tend to pool in tissues of the legs and ankles, causing everything from varicose veins to swollen ankles to leg cramps—and, it turns out, a significant slowdown in metabolism.

"The trick to burning as many calories as we can, even while we're sitting doing nothing, is to make sure to have really good blood flow," says Ken McLeod, Ph.D., of SUNY Binghamton in New York. "Because the more blood you're pumping, the more oxygen you're pumping. And the more oxygen you're pumping, the more metabolic activity is going on in your body." A regular regimen of squats or tai chi moves will keep your muscles in top shape. Another option is the Sonostics HeartPartner ($595), a device that stimulates the soleus muscle to contract while you work at your computer or sit back and watch TV. Users report a significant drop in weight with use at least two hours a day over six months to a year, Dr. McLeod says.

Get your beauty rest. A 10-year study of over 68,000 women found that those who clocked five hours or less most nights gained more weight than those who slept seven hours a night. ?Getting insufficient sleep for as little as two nights can cause our bodies to become 20% less effective at regulating blood sugar levels, which is the key to weight loss,? says Schoffro Cook. Plus, sleep deprivation increases sugar cravings and decreases feelings of fullness after meals!

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Exercise smarter, not harder. Let's face it, most of us just aren't as active as we were as youngsters—and you don't have to be to keep your waistline in check! The latest research reveals that just a daily eight-minute output of intense activity (walking very briskly, for example, can boost your calorie burn as much as 30 minutes of moderate exercise does, says naturopath Michelle Schoffro Cook, Ph.D., D.N.M., author of 60 Seconds to Slim. "Intense exercise quickly boosts your heart rate and increases oxygenation in your blood, which gets your fat-burning mechanism working at high efficiency," Cook said.

Bathe away calories. Cutting-edge research out of Loughborough University in England suggests that a warm one-hour soak could help you lose as much weight as exercise. Folks who relaxed in water as hot as they could comfortably handle (reheating as needed with more hot tap water) melted as many calories as they would have walking for 30 minutes! Turns out, "passive heating"—raising your core temperature just one degree—prompts your body to torch excess calories. A welcome side effect: Hot bathers experienced a 10 percent greater dip in blood sugar than folks who cycled for an hour!

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