Gaining weight is easy, but losing it is tough, and keeping the weight off is the biggest challenge of all. The number of calories a woman needs varies depending on her age and activity level. Women between the ages of 23 and 50 generally need to consume from 1,700 to 2,200 calories each day to maintain their current body weight and energy levels. Older women require fewer calories.
Defining a Healthy Body Weight
To achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, you must be aware of the weight range that fits your height and particular body build. Ideal weight is more than a number on the scale: It’s based on several factors, including height, age, gender, body frame and percentage of body fat. Body mass index is a useful indicator to determine if you are currently at a healthy weight. However, if you need to see whether your weight in pounds falls within a healthy range, Weight Watchers provides a chart of weight ranges for adults based on height (see Resources). For a woman of average height, 5 ft. 4 inches, for example, a healthy weight range is 117 to 146 pounds with a BMI range of 20 to 25.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Body mass index generally is a reliable way to measure if you are overweight. Enter your height and weight into the simple BMI formula to compare your own weight to that of others in the general population. Calculate your BMI by dividing your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared. Multiply the number you get by a conversion factor of 703. BMI ranges for adults age 20 and older that fall between 18.5 and 24.9 are associated with a normal weight status, although some variations apply when using BMI to identify a weight problem. Women tend to have more body fat than men at the same BMI, and older individuals have more body fat than they did when they were younger. Excess body weight, particularly at the waistline, increases a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke. This is not good news for apple-shaped post-menopausal women are already at increased risk of heart disease.
Women can gain fat in the belly as they age and their metabolism slows. Abdominal fat increases a woman’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, gall bladder problems and certain cancers. Even if your food intake and exercise remain the same, you may still gain weight as you get older. Measuring your waist can tell you if you have an unhealthy amount of body fat. In fact, calculating body mass index may not be an entirely accurate measure of body fat percentage for a woman after menopause. According to MayoClinic.com, women with a waist measurement of 33 inches or more have an unhealthy amount of belly fat, no matter how much they weigh.
Exercise to Maintain Weight
Findings of a study published in the March 2010 issue of the “Journal of the American Medical Association” found that only women with BMI lower than 25 gained fewer than five pounds over the course of the study. The study examined the relationship between different levels of physical activity and long-term weight changes among middle-aged and older women consuming regular diets. Those women with lower BMI who were successful at preventing weight gain performed moderate-intensity exercise for an average of one hour every day. The research suggests that although increased physical activity can help you maintain normal BMI, you still need to restrict calories to lose and maintain weight. For older women who are already overweight, exercise alone is not enough to help them get back down to a healthy weight: Regular physical activity and cutting back calories are required.
Eating a Healthy Diet
Consuming fewer than 1,500 calories a day can put even older women at risk of malnutrition and poor health. A healthy diet should include a variety of foods to ensure that you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients for good health. Eating a diet high in saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol levels increasing the risk for heart disease. Too much sugar in your diet can add on extra pounds as well.