The term middle age spread refers to the amount of weight gained by men and women once they hit the big 4-0. Not only do they pack on a few pounds, but their body fat percentage tends to rise as their lean muscle mass decreases. This is often due to a lack of activity, a decrease in hormones, a slower metabolism, and a decrease in energy output.
One study took a closer look at the middle age spread to see just how much of a threat it posed. A team of researchers at the University of Jyväskylä collected more than 1,000 middle-aged (34 to 49 years) participants and divided them into three groups:
Maintainers, who didn’t increase their daily step count.
Decreasers, who took fewer steps than average every day.
Increasers, who increased their daily step count anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 steps per day.
Both men and women saw an increase in their BMI during the four years of the study. During this time, close to 50% of the participants maintained their step count, while an additional 25% increased their step count by 1,000 steps per day. These activity levels led to an increase in BMI—visible, though not drastic or unhealthy. On the flip side, those who increased their step count by more than 2,000 steps per day either maintained their pre-testing BMI or saw a decrease in body fat.
Get Fitter or Fatter as You Age
No, that doesn’t mean necessarily going to a gym or forcing yourself to take up jogging or cycling. According to the lead researcher,
“THE STEPS ACCUMULATE ON MANY INSTANCES DURING THE DAY, IF YOU GIVE IT A CHANCE. ONE DOES NOT NECESSARILY NEED TO GO FOR A WALK EVERY DAY TO INCREASE THE DAILY STEP COUNT. INSTEAD, ATTENTION SHOULD BE PAID TO CHOICES IN EVERYDAY LIFE. DOES EVERY TRIP NEED TO BE MADE BY CAR OR COULD SOME OF THEM BE DONE BY FOOT, OR COULD THE STAIRS BE TAKEN INSTEAD OF THE ELEVATOR.”
The trend in physical activity looks good. International studies have shown that physical activity generally decreases along with age, but here it increased. Even though step counts in general look good, it should be noted that the amount of passive people who take less than 5,000 steps per day did not change significantly during the research period.
It seems like even the simplest things can’t drive some people to adopt healthier practices.
1. Kasper Salin, Mirja Hirvensalo, Costan Magnussen, Risto Telama, Nina Hutri-Kähönen, Jorma Viikari, Olli Raitakari, Tuija Tammelin. “Changes in Daily Steps and Body Mass Index and Waist to Height Ratio during Four Year Follow-Up in Adults: Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2017; 14 (9): 1015.