Why weight gain in middle age is not inevitable

David Cameron on holiday in Cornwall

Related Stories

It makes men and women despair. A bulging waistline and a protruding belly are often the first signs that middle age has taken over.

Somehow, that flabby spare tyre around the middle is almost guaranteed to form in our 40s, stretching our clothes to previously unknown limits and sending us scurrying for the diet plans.

Just ask David Cameron, 46, who was photographed topless on a Cornwall beach this week looking "portly", according to the Daily Mirror.

In his defence, beachwear is rarely the most flattering attire and Mr Cameron is a very busy man.

Start Quote

I've got two allotments, six children and I bike 20 miles a day”

End Quote Prof Michael Symonds University of Nottingham

The prime minister has a stressful job; he must have very little time for doing the recommended two-and-a-half hours of physical activity a week, and all those state banquets and cabinet lunches are bound to lead to a high-calorie intake.

However, Mr Cameron is regularly seen cycling to work and jogging in his spare time so he does manage to exercise.

This is important because an unhealthy lifestyle in middle-age can increase the amount of abdominal fat in the body - and that type of fat is particularly dangerous.

The bad news is that carrying excess weight, particularly around the waist, will increase the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, some cancers and type-2 diabetes.

Energetic hobbies

Michael Symonds, professor of developmental physiology at the University of Nottingham, says the answer is to adopt a healthy lifestyle - or find a hobby that expends lots of energy.

"I've got two allotments, six children and I bike 20 miles a day," he says. "I'm the same weight as I was when I was in my 20s."

He also recommends avoiding processed foods high in sugar and fat, growing your own vegetables and reducing work stress.

He adds: "Research shows that disrupted sleep patterns can have an impact too. The propensity to obesity is more prevalent in shift workers because of this fact."

The PM should definitely take note.

Katya Mileva, senior research fellow at London South Bank University's Academy of Sport, says dancing is an amazing way of keeping healthy, particularly into our 50s and 60s.

"Energetic salsa or Latin dancing is a really dynamic, aerobic activity which can offset almost everything else."

As well as keeping the body healthy, she recommends gentle exercise for the mind too in the form of tai chi or yoga.

Waist measurement

How to tackle an expanding waistline is mostly common sense, but the issue is knowing when we need to act - and summer photos are a useful tool in exposing our embarrassing bulges.

The next step is to measure the circumference of your waist which is a good way of checking out just how healthy you are.

The National Obesity Forum says that a waist circumference of more than 35in (88.9cm) for women and 40in (102cm) for men represents a "substantially increased risk" of developing heart disease and type-2 diabetes.

Start Quote

If you're burning fewer calories and you haven't changed your diet, you're going to gain weight”

End Quote Dr Emma Williams Nutrition scientist

Even a waist circumference of 32in (81.3cm) for women, and 37in (94cm) for men indicates an increased risk.

Experts say this is because an accumulation of fat around the tummy contributes to the narrowing and hardening of the arteries, but fat around the hips does not.

Alternatively, researchers say ideally everyone should keep their waist measurement to less than half their height - which means that a 6ft-tall man should have a waist less than 36in, while a 5ft 4in woman should keep hers under 32in.

But David Cameron, like many of us, will no doubt be cheered to find out that it is easier to gain weight as we get older because our body composition changes.

Prof Symonds says it is part of a natural process.

"Between the age of 30 and 40 people tend to do less exercise and changes in metabolism predispose you to laying down more fat."

Muscle loss

Brown fat, or good fat - which is present in all of us when we are babies - steadily declines when we are children and by the time we are middle-aged it is replaced by white fat, the bad stuff, which clings to waistlines and hips.

At the same time as gaining fat tissue, we lose muscle as we get older. This causes our energy needs to drop because fat tissue requires less energy (or calories) to maintain its functions compared to muscle.

Dr Emma Williams, nutrition scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation, says this is when the problems begin.

"Many people also become less active as they age. If you're burning fewer calories and you haven't changed your diet, you're going to gain weight.

"Hormonal changes also influence body fat distribution so we become more likely to lay fat around the middle."

Middle-aged parents, who have been very active looking after young children, may be tempted to stand back when they become teenagers and enjoy the barbecues and the beer a little too much.

But the truth is that we just don't need to eat as much post-middle age and we still need to keep active.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    17 Minutes ago
    Let's have some pictures of 'senior BBC managers' to go with this story shall we? What's sauce for the goose etc. etc. I'm afraid as a news organisation it becomes more pathetic by the day. Oh, did this 'break house rules' [no criticising the BBC] and get censored?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I thought middle-aged spread a thing of the past - as a concept. Weight which previously would have gone on hips/bottom tends to move to the abdomen in one's 50s, but the answer is not to be overweight. if people are less physically active, they need to reduce calorie intake. Exercise is for reshaping and well-goned muscles. Mr Cameron should have kept his shirt on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The psychological sickness of a person is reflected outwardly. David is a sick man. Pickles is a very sick man.

    It is nothing more than base-greed to still fears. It is so immature.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Pity I thought it was a money belt, but I am an optimist

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Go and fight in Syria? Sure fire way.

    Looks like warmongering USA is at it again.

    Keep us OUT of this conflict please, no more killing on my behalf.

    and HYS is giving us an opinion about a tubby PM?

    As this post won't be here for long, tubby Dave's BBC will see to that, I suggest that less time on holiday and more work might be good for the country as well as the waistline.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Now 50, I'm the same weight I was at 16, 17, 18... 20. Normal 'healthy' lifestyle, I watch my diet and walk a lot. No 'spare tyre', and enjoy a beer. Not genetically linked, as both parents weren't exactly slim. The secret: Exercise and diet. No rocket science!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Body weight is obviously inversely proportional to IQ.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    36. Don't kid yourself - it is maths whether you like it or not so don't shoot the messenger. There might be a small amount of variation between the metabolisms of different people but in general if you consume more than you need you get fat, so either consume less or use more. Slim people I know either eat sensibly or are active. Deny it if you like - up to you - but it is true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Let us slate politicians for their policies (bedroom tax, anyone?) but surely we can leave people to have a holiday in peace? Especially as Cameron looks ok in the photo.

    This is the kind of gutter journalism that thinks we are interested that celebrities have less than perfect bodies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I agree Welsh Dragon - cycling is a great form of exercise and is a good way to relax and see the countryside. I've done running occasionally but prefer cycling because it's easier on the joints and you get to see a lot more.

    Maybe Cameron should try cycling more than a couple of miles to work (and ditch the car following close behind!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    We are full of angst - poured into us by the media and the government. My old charge nurse back in the 80s said our patients ( psychiatric) lived longer than the every day Mr and Mrs Average because they didn't have any stress in their lives. Everything was taken care of, and they smoked, drank ( unless on meds) and ate what they wanted!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Greens of any sort for breakfast plus a fresh green juice drink made in a liquidiser. Bean soup in the early evening. No late meals. Wine at weekends only and no more than two glasses. Three months and the weigh issue will be resolved. Expect to feel hungry and maybe distract yourself by taking a interest in work?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Visit to supermarket the other day:

    half price offer = four jumbo sausage rolls 99p
    fruit section = four large apples £199

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    13 "Why do some people refuse to believe that fat is simply the difference between calories in and calories expanded? Any other explanation contravenes the laws of physics!"

    If it was just a matter of calories-in v calories-out, we`d have to count cals to the most minute degree. No other animal on earth does that.
    An extra 10 calories every day would have us all stones overweight by middle age

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Never a fan of David Cameron, never a fan of middle aged spread, but I was a fan of the BBC and I am so disappointed - seems like it's a downward spiral - into the mire

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    The next episode in this series of 'Stating the bleeding obvious' will be a lengthy treatise on why drinking alcohol can sometimes make you drunk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    All these self-righteous and sanctimonious commentators. What would the professor have said about Churchill - who ate all the pies? And he lived till he was ninety.

    Losing weight is desirable but spare us the lectures and the finger pointing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Must we be subjected to the prime ministerial pork, lard or fat.

    Perhaps he can go and join Putin what next Klegg getting into the act.

    We pay these lard #₤^@ to govern we’re obviously paying them to much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Wiggins/Olympics inspired me to invest in a bicycle. Joy! Besides seeing the world from a different perspective (good for mind) and discovering quiet byways I never knew existed, it's great fun!

    Doesn't feel like exercise which means I get out most days - whether for a pure ride or to nip into town. I can thoroughly recommend investing in a bike (no need to spend a fortune, eBay is your friend).

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Disturbing though the image of David Cameron, resplendent in his Prime Ministerial topless sunburn and flaunting his middle aged spread to the elements aren't we all a teensy bit glad we never had to see Margaret Thatcher or Ted Heath doing the same?


Page 5 of 7


More Health stories



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.