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The Best Way to Get a Lean Body After 50, Says Science

Research shows these specific methods can help you lose weight and tone up.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Don't fall into the mental trap of assuming you're "too old" to transform your physique past the age of 50. It may surprise you, but the human body is just as capable of losing weight and toning up at 55 years old as it is at 25.

Skeptical? Consider the findings of this recent study published in Clinical Endocrinology. Researchers tracked two groups of overweight adults as they set off on a new diet, exercise, and lifestyle plan intended to encourage weight loss. One group of adults were middle-aged, while the second cohort was 60 or older. Incredibly, the older group actually ended up losing more weight (7.3%) in comparison to younger participants (6.9%). Moreover, the older subjects followed their new diet/exercise plan for a shorter period yet reaped more weight loss benefits!

"There are a number of reasons why people may discount weight loss in older people. These include an 'ageist' perspective that weight-loss is not relevant to older people and misconceptions of reduced ability of older people to lose weight through dietary modification and increased exercise," comments lead study author Dr. Thomas Barber of Warwick University Medical School. "Furthermore, age per se should not contribute towards clinical decisions regarding the implementation of lifestyle management of older people."

Another research project published in BMJ Open surveyed a group of older adults on their experiences and beliefs regarding weight loss in old age. Across the board, participants reported a desire to lose weight and the belief that doing so would improve their quality of life. However, subjects also felt they had received little to no guidance from doctors and other health authorities on how exactly to lose weight and maintain a steady BMI at their age.

Luckily, there are a number of ways you can sculpt a lean body after age 50 beyond just diet and exercise. Read on to learn the best methods, and for more, check out Exercises You Should Never Do After Age 50.

1

Set personal, realistic goals

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There's no shortage of generalized workout plans and strategies online, but at the end of the day, only you really know your own body and its unique needs and limitations. One study published in JAMA Cardiology strongly indicates that setting your own fitness goals for the day can help older adults exercise more on a consistent basis.

Some of the study's participants were assigned a concrete number for the number of daily steps they should accomplish, while others were allowed to set their step count goals. Sure enough, those who were able to set their own goals and then immediately get to walking were the only group to show significant improvements in daily physical activity levels.

Additionally, while the actual intervention stage of this study lasted four months, study authors kept tabs on participants for an additional two months. Once again, only subjects who were permitted to set their own walking goals for that day kept up with their new exercise habits.

"Individuals who select their own goals are more likely to be intrinsically motivated to follow through on them," says Kevin Volpp, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. "They feel like the goal is theirs and this likely enables greater engagement."

It's also worth mentioning that this research reports "gamifying" workouts can help improve consistency and dedication. In other words, the next time you're out for a long walk and hoping to reach an all-time high daily step count, imagine you're going for a new "high score" in the fitness game of life.

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2

Exercise socially

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Motivation is key to success while sculpting a leaner look, and there's ample scientific evidence suggesting we workout harder with a little bit of help from our friends and family. A study published in Obesity reports that receiving ample social support from a loved one helps encourage more consistent weight loss achievements. Feeling particularly lazy one day? Don't be afraid to reach out to a trusted confidant for some support.

Another research project published in the International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care finds that walking in a group promotes both greater exercise enjoyment and improved overall life quality. You're much less likely to skip a workout if doing so messes with your friend's routine as well as your own.

"At a time when we are being encouraged to meet physical activity guidelines, a large proportion of the public fail to do so. Our review found that people may be more likely to exercise if they have social support," states lead study author Catherine Meads, professor of health at Anglia Ruskin University. "Walking in groups tended to increase life satisfaction and may also improve social connectedness."

Yet another older study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology tracked individuals recruited for a weight loss program individually versus those recruited with friends. Again, those who tried out the program with friends were far more likely to lose weight and subsequently keep the pounds off afterward.

Related: The Worst Time to Exercise If You Love to Sleep, Science Says

3

Walk consistently

two men walking together in an urban park with buildings behind them
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One of the trickiest aspects of fitness is consistency. Sure, a few trips to the gym or walks around the neighborhood are great, but if you usually spend the next few days glued to your couch, you're never going to make any real progress.

Research released by the Physiological Society shows just how important regular exercise is for older adults in terms of both weight loss and maintaining muscle. It's well documented that we all lose considerable muscle mass and strength as we age. Referred to as sarcopenia, this process is unavoidable to a certain extent. That being said, staying active can go a long way toward minimizing age-related muscle loss.

Study authors put together a group of 21 older adults who had been consistently getting at least 10,000 steps per day. For the study, participants were instructed to cut down their walking considerably to just 1,500 steps daily for two full weeks. After just 14 days of reduced physical activity, subjects gained notable weight around their waists and lost a significant amount of muscle mass.

"The severe impact of short-term inactivity on our health is hugely important to communicate to people. If the gym is hard to get to, people should be encouraged to just meet 10,000 steps as even this can guard against reductions in muscle and bone health, as well as maintaining healthy levels of body fat," says study co-author Juliette Norman.

Related: Walking This Many Steps Every Day Can Help You Live Longer, Science Says

4

Step on a scale

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This tip may make you laugh, but there's no arguing with science. Want to give yourself every advantage when it comes to shedding those pesky extra pounds? Step on your home scale consistently!

That's right, research published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that simply stepping on a scale every day helped a group of women lose weight and reduce their BMI. Many included subjects weren't even trying to lose weight, yet still saw BMI reductions if they habitually checked their weight.

Similarly, another study published in Circulation reports subjects who weighed themselves an average of 6-7 times per week shed an average of 1.7% of their body weight over the course of a year, while those who only stepped on a scale every now and then saw no weight loss at all.

"Maybe they exercise a little bit more the next day (after seeing a weight increase) or they watch what they're eating more carefully," comments Jamie Cooper of the University of Georgia. Cooper authored yet another study that discovered people who stepped on a scale every day during the holidays successfully avoided packing on any extra holiday pounds. "The subjects self-select how they're going to modify their behavior, which can be effective because we know that interventions are not one-size-fits-all."

Related: The #1 Drink for Faster Weight Loss, Dietitian Says

Practice Tai Chi

Senior Couple Doing Tai Chi In Park, Tuebingen, Germany

The ancient Chinese martial art known as Tai Chi is another secret way for older adults to lean out. Even better, it can also improve balance and coordination—a major benefit, considering how prevalent falls are among older individuals.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that tracked over 500 people over the age of 50 concluded that Tai Chi is just as effective as more traditional exercise when it comes to reducing belly fat.

Another project asked participants to practice Tai Chi five times per week for three months while not changing anything else about their usual routine (diet, other exercise, etc.). By the end of that period, the subjects had lost an average of just over one pound each.

For more, check out One Major Effect Exercise Has on Your Happiness.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more