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The Mind’s Weight Matters

Middle-Age Pudge’s Mental Pressures

Weight gain produces feelings of despondency and low self-worth among middle-aged men.

By John Salak –

Weight gain for middle-aged men is obviously not all in their minds, but that doesn’t mean adding pounds doesn’t play on their psyches. The extra girth men develop as they age has a defined impact on their mental wellbeing, generating a feeling of despondency and low self-worth, according to recently released research. It is also seen as inevitable for most men given their family and career responsibilities.

The gains for whatever reason are no small factors, according to the British researchers who generated the findings. They noted almost a third of men in England aged 35 to 64 are obese. Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and the University of Derby came to their weight conclusions after interviewing men at least 35 years old who were participating in The Alpha Programme, a football and weight management project held throughout the country. 

The research effort involved in-depth interviews that explored participant relationships with food and diet, why they felt they had put on weight, related concerns about their health and whether they had tried to shed pounds previously. The feedback zeroed in on family and employment as the two main factors contributing to weight gain. The participants also indicated a general sense of resignation that adding on pounds was inevitable as work and family responsibilities grew.

While comfort eating resulted also help pile on poundage, the study’s participants demonstrated little awareness when it came to the impact of nutrition, food types and proper proportions. Even though the subjects involved were somewhat despondent, lost self-esteem and even recognized the potential health risks from their eating habits, they rarely attempted to break or alter these behaviors. “There is a tendency to forget how much our lifestyle, in particular family and employment, impacts our weight gain. This weight gain takes place over years and decades and as such, short-term dietary options fail to influence the deeper behavioral and lifestyle issues,” reported lead author Dr. Mark Cortnage of Anglia Ruskin University. 

He also noted it was hard to break this self-destructive cycle. “Although they often mentioned comfort eating, participants also showed poor awareness of other factors that cause weight gain,” Cortnage explained. “Many men would benefit from an education around food, such as food selection, integration of diet, sustainable weight management practices, in order to develop a more complete understanding of the relationships between food and lifestyle.”

Other factors, of course, also contribute to weight gain over time, including shifts in calorie-burning metabolism. But even this eventual slow down isn’t fully responsible for all the added pounds people put on as they age. Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, in fact, threw some cold water on the notion that metabolic changes are largely responsible for middle-aged pudge. Its research indicated that metabolism—the rate at which someone burns calories—actually peaks much earlier and starts its inevitable decline later than generally expected.

 “As we age, there are a lot of physiological changes that occur in the phases of our life such as during puberty and in menopause. What’s odd is that the timing of our ‘metabolic life stages’ doesn’t appear to match the markers we associate with growing up and getting older,” reported the study’s co-author Jennifer Rood, a Pennington Associate Executive Director. The Louisiana State researchers came to this conclusion after studying how more than 6,500 people ages one week to 95 years old burned calories on average. 

The impact overages were surprising. “Some people think of their teens and 20s as the age when their calorie-burning potential hits its peak,” explained Dr. Peter Katzmarzyk, another Associate Executive Director at Pennington. “But the study shows that pound for pound, infants had the highest metabolic rates of all.”

Energy needs, in fact, increase rapidly during a person’s first year and by the time they reach 12 months babies are burning calories 50 percent faster for their body size than adults. After this, metabolism rates slow by about three percent each year until it stabilizes when a person is in their 20s. What was also startling is that these rates remain stable as a person moves through their 50s. Metabolism rates don’t start to decline until a person hits 60 years old and slows even further as someone reaches their 90s. 

“Aging goes hand in hand with so many other physiological changes that it has been difficult to parse what drives the shifts in energy expenditure. But the new research supports the idea that it’s more than age-related changes in lifestyle or body composition,” the researchers stressed. 

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