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Old Wives' Tales?

Of course, if you wait long enough, say about 25 years, the weight gains that started to accelerate may begin to reverse themselves, says a researcher who studies metabolism in people in their 70s, 80s, and beyond.

"People tend to gain weight steadily, on average -- not everybody -- and get more fat and tend to lose lean mass up to about age 65, and then what happens is that there's a downward trend: Now people start to kind of slowly lose weight -- again, not everybody, but the trend is that as you get older -- the general population I see is in the 70s and 80s -- they tend to lose weight," says Michi Yukawa, MD, MPH, acting instructor in the department of medicine and the division of gerontology and geriatric medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"Why they lose that is the topic of my research. It may be various hormonal changes, metabolic changes, and the fact that they just don't eat as much as they used to. They lose their appetite, which can be due to a variety of factors, such as stress, loss of spouses and friends, money issues, or many other things."

But you don't have to wait for age to take its course, Fernstrom says.

"Even if we do have a small, let's say, biological sabotage built in, it does not mean everyone is destined to gain weight as they grow older. It's sort of an old wives' tale that you'll gain 30 or 40 pounds as you continue through middle age -- it can easily happen, but it's very easy to offset the change in metabolic rate," she tells WebMD.

"For most people that's going to be 100 calories a day approximately, and, you know, you look at 100 calories, if you are overconsuming just that 100 calories, you can gain 10 pounds in a year if you are out of sync 100 calories a day. So you don't have to have a lot of extra calories to have what I call weight creep."

Regular exercise is also key to getting metabolism back on your side, Peeke adds.

"The kind of physical activity that people are choosing to do in their 40s is nowhere near as intense as it's supposed to be. So to get over that metabolic speed bump we ask for an increase in intensity on the part of these happy campers. What does that mean? Instead of walking on the flat, throw in some hills. Ramp up the resistance on your resistance training, or for that matter the resistance on a cross-trainer. It's all the same."

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