“Middle-age spread” – Truth or myth?

The term ‘middle-age spread’ often refers to the weight gain that often occurs from the 40s onwards – and in particular during and after the menopause in women.

A landmark international study, published in August 2021, however, concludes that the so called ‘middle-age spread’ is actually a myth. The culprits for ‘causing’ the so called ‘middle-age spread’ are around changes in diet, exercise and lifestyle, rather than anything else.

What does the new research show?

The new study looked at more than 6,000 people from 29 countries over 40 years. The participants ranged in age from 8 days to 95 years. They found that our metabolism peaks around the age of one, when babies burn calories 50% faster than adults. It then gradually declines at a rate of around 3% a year until the age of 20 and from there, rather than slowly declining as previously thought, it flattens out until about the age of 60. Once you reach the age of 60, it then starts to slowly decline again by about 1% each year. This means that by the time we get to the age of 90, our metabolism is running over a quarter lower than in it was in mid-life.

So why do we seem to gain weight during mid-life?

So, if a significant reduction in metabolism isn’t to blame, why do people struggle with this so called ‘middle-age spread’? There are likely to be several reasons for this, as outlined below:

  •  Changes in diet – dietary changes can happen as well get older. Some example include eating out more frequently as income increases, drinking more alcohol, moving towards more convenience-based foods (which are naturally higher in calories)
  •  Hormonal changes – weight gain is a common side effect seen during the menopause, which is caused by the significant drop in the hormone oestrogen levels. This weight gain tends to be deposited centrally (‘central adiposity’) after the menopause, which can lead to metabolic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  •  Changes in physical activity levels – often people become less active as they get older. This can occur due to a range of factors such as changes in job (moving towards more sedentary work), children getting older (less ‘running around after the kids’ and less active trips or days out), retirement (leading to a more sedentary lifestyle), illness and other health conditions (conditions affecting mobility, e.g. arthritis and knee pain, can force a reduction in physical activity). 
  • Lifestyle factors – other lifestyle factors, such as increased stress (due to career, family relationships, worries about the pandemic) and lack of sleep can become more common as we get older.


Middle Aged Spread


Tips for nutrition and exercise

If you would consider yourself ‘middle aged’ and are concerned about any of these factors, read on for some helpful tips to help you stay healthy:

  • Revisit your food habits – the impact of the internet and social media means we are all faced with misconceptions about what our diets should look like on a daily basis. Getting back to basics and looking at what you are eating and making small sustainable changes towards a healthier intake is the way to go. What changes could you make today to eat more healthily? This might include reducing your portion sizes, reducing your sugar intake, increasing your fruit and vegetable intake, or cutting back on alcohol, eating out and takeaways. Research continues to suggest that eating wholegrains regularly can have a positive impact on weight maintenance.
  • Review your lifestyle – stress and lack of sleep can have an impact on weight gain. If you are stressed, making time to relax, de-stress and re-energise is really important. It could be something as simple as making time for a relaxing bath or listening to some contemplative music.
  • Establish a regular exercise routine – consider your current lifestyle and plan changes to become more active. If you struggle with mobility issues, there are still plenty of options, for example chair-based exercises, or seek advice from a personal trainer to create a bespoke plan.
  • Weight training – there is some evidence that weight training can offset the central adiposity caused by menopausal changes, as we as helping preserve muscle mass and raising metabolic rate.

For more information on the study discussed in this article, please visit: Metabolism changes with age, just not when you might think — ScienceDaily


  1. Mine started early 20s when I damaged my spine in a weightlifting accident. Before then I played football many times a week and lifted weights regularly. My diet was rubbish, but the sudden lack of activity meant I wasn’t burning the calories and I went from 14 to over 23 stone pretty rapidly. Now mid-40s, I’m using SNS to kick-start a healthier lifestyle and I’m aiming for my pre-injury weight and a whole different attitude to food.

  2. I would say that I started to watch my weight as soon as I entered my 30s.

    I noticed the scales were slowly inching upwards and ever since and I had to start controlling my diet. I could no longer eat the foods I wanted, when I wanted.
    It was definitely a realisation when I kept going up dress sizes and could no longer fit into my ‘favourite’ pair of jeans.
    But I must say that I do feel much better watching my food intake and trying to keep the balance right.

  3. My spread started way before middle age – an accident led to long lasting issues and fibromyalgia. I suppose I’m middle-aged now (I’ve just turned 46) although mentally I still feel like I’m in around my mid 20s, there are days my body suggests mid 60s might be closer! I want to get my weight back under control before the menopause comes along to complicate things further, so I can deal with any fluctuations that might come after that starts. Having a fantastic weight loss journey so far with S&S – much better than a previous VLCD! Nearly halfway through my target loss, rarely feel hungry and the little extras we can have like the SF jelly and Coke Zero make it so it hardly feels like a diet at all on Lifestyle.

  4. How refreshing to see this being spoken about!

    I haven’t quite hit the middle age bracket, but I’m fast approaching and this information is so important. Especially when talking about the menopause. It’s something that isn’t often widely discussed & I for one do not want to hit the menopause and have no idea what could / will happen so would prefer some open and frank conversations instead of ugly surprises

    I’ve only been on SNS for just over a week but already feel amazing well – no longer bloated, much more energy than usual and feeling positive for the first time in I don’t know how long. For me this is a complete lifestyle change and I know that once I reach the middle years my body and I will be prepared

  5. I started the middle age spread at 44.. But could have been the menopause.. Then started at 45 with my thyroid issues and fibro myalgia… So these combined put a stop to me going to the gym.. Weight ballooned..

  6. Fitter now than ever, it got to the point that I’d have to start buying a bigger size 4 years ago and I thought enough is enough. Lost weight and started exercising, felt much better for it. Almost 50 now and a bit of timber has crept back on, so starting SnS to get it off. Feel great after exercise and helps me sleep better.

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