If you’re a 40+ guy paying at least casual attention to nutrition science, you know this: as we get older, our bodies naturally burn fewer calories.
Given this reality about “base metabolic rate” (BMR), our choices are:
- Slowly gain weight. The US NIH says 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese. Slow/steady gain during aging is one root cause of this disturbing fact.
- Get more active, to counter-balance the “other things equal” BMR decline (and for many other quality-of-life and longevity reasons).
- Reduce calories consumed (this isn’t mainly an article on nutrition specifics, but: diet evolution should focus a lot on quality of intake, not just calorie count…but ultimately, calories do matter)
I flirted with the first path in my 30’s. Working my butt off, traveling a lot and having young kids at home impacted both diet and workout discipline. I decided to make changes when looking at vacation photos and thinking “who’s that kinda-tubby guy in my bathing suit and hanging around with my wife and kids?”
I chose to reject Outcome #1 above, do everything I can toward Outcome #2, and also accept that a bit of Outcome #3 will be needed over time.
Whatever choice you make (and you are making a choice, man), I want it to be an informed one. As Rush sang in Free Will, “When you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
So please invest a few minutes to learn about your current calorie burn rate, how it’s changing, and how your activity level affects that trajectory. Preview: getting more active can more than offset BMR decline, for many years!
BASE METABOLIC RATE & INCREMENTAL IMPACT OF ACTIVITY LEVEL
BMR is a function of your height, weight, gender and age. There’s a widely-used formula for this, that’s reasonably accurate for most people (besides, the trend is more important than the exact calculated number).
Your average daily caloric burn is a product of this BMR and an adjustment factor based on activity level. This adjustment factor, the Harris Benedict Equation, has five adjustment multipliers based on activity levels, from sedentary to pro-athlete-style 2x/day training.
If you’re chomping at the bit to know your activity-adjusted BMR right now, before reading further, I get it. Here’s an online calculator. See you back here in a minute. Or, the link is also at the end of this article, if you’re the more-patient type.
This chart shows BMR for ages from 35-65, at each standardized Harris Benedict activity level, for a 5-foot-10-inch guy weighing 180 pounds.
While the yearly BMR decline is gradual (thankfully), don’t underestimate how a few unburned calories per day add up. A guy’s daily BMR is about 80 fewer calories than it was for him ten years ago. If he “accumulates” those 80 calories every day for a year, he’ll gain eight pounds.
ACTIVITY-LEVEL CAN INCREASE CALORIE-BURN MORE THAN AGE DECREASES IT
Here’s great news: You can more than counterbalance this BMR decline by even modestly increasing activity level.
In the chart version below, look how a 65 year-old moderately active guy burns as many daily calories as a 35 year-old lightly active guy! (And a lot more than a lightly-active 45 or 55 year-old).
This is a fantastic, dude. Ramping up activity level (even modestly) has a greater affect on metabolic rate than aging 30 years. It means we have the opportunity – if we get a little more active – to pretty easily stave off weight/fat gain, even though we’re getting older. With reasonable effort, we can lose weight while we get fitter.
Though it sounds like a magazine-cover cliche, we CAN in some ways actually be better than we were 10 or 20 years ago. Yeah, most of us will have more aches and pains, and be a little slower and less athletically explosive than we were (or at least had the potential to be). No one’s age-proof.
But on the hugely important dimensions of weight, body fat, and fitness…this data shows we can double down on fitness and nutrition to be, overall, in great shape.
“Well, I’m getting older…” doesn’t need to be an impediment. And you shouldn’t let it be an excuse either, man.
If you haven’t already done so, check out your adjusted BMR here.
Can you take activity level up a notch (or even a half-notch…or don’t let me be a wet blanket, how about two notches)? You’ll be burning more calories than the younger-but-less-fit you.
What would you do with that improvement? Lose weight? Eat more (good things) to help build muscle? Some of each? This is a nice decision to make, brothers.
So, please…”man up” and put yourself in position to make it!
“We’re not gonna take it. Never did and never will.” (The Who, We’re Not Gonna Take It — click-to-listen. This is an awesome video from The Who at Woodstock — a must see!)
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