How do my calorie needs change as I get older?

Q: I’m in my 50s and I’ve heard that it’s normal to burn fewer calories as I get older. Is this right?

You can think of burning calories as Step 1 of life, says Herman Pontzer, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. Food gives your body the fuel it needs to stay healthy, he says.

Dr. Pontzer and other experts say your age, along with several other factors, can greatly affect the number of calories you need to maintain your weight and basic body functions.

Here’s what to know.

Dr. Pontzer says body size is the most important factor affecting your calorie needs. The older you are, the more calories you need.

But your life stage is also important, he adds.

For example, infants and young children need fewer calories than adults simply because they are smaller. But when you calculate the calories they use relative to their body size, it’s actually more calories than adults use because they’re growing and developing, Dr. Pontzer said.

More physical activity also increases the number of calories you burn, says Anna Maria Siega-Riz, professor of nutrition and dean of the Department of Health Sciences and Community Health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the lead author of a 2023 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine estimating the calorie needs of people in the United States and Canada.

According to that report, a 40-year-old, 200-pound, inactive man would need about 2,700 calories per day to maintain weight and basic body functions. But if he is an athlete who trains several hours a day, he will need about 3,500 calories a day.

The same report estimates that starting around age 19, calorie needs decrease each year to about 11 calories per year for adults, said Susan Roberts, associate dean for basic research at Dartmouth Geisel College. men and 7 calories for women. Medicine.

For example, a 170-pound woman who walks 60 to 80 minutes a day will need 2,450 calories a day in her 20s at age 60, however, this number will decrease to 2,150 and at age 80 it will be 2,000.

This age-related decline in calorie burn is often most noticeable in the 60s and older, Dr. Roberts says, and can manifest in weight gain or less appetite. As you age, you tend to lose muscle and gain fat, which burns fewer calories, she says. And your brain, the body’s most metabolically active tissue, will naturally shrink in size and require less energy, she adds.

People also become less physically active as they age, which further reduces the number of calories they burn each day, Dr. Siega-Riz said.

You can estimate your own calorie needs using an online calculator. Just keep in mind that such calculators can only provide a general picture of what you should consume. Your actual needs will vary based on your daily activities, genetics, and other factors, says Dr. Siega-Riz.

If you’re wondering whether you’re consuming the right amount, the best way to check is to regularly weigh yourself, says Dr. Siega-Riz. If your weight is relatively stable then you are eating an appropriate amount of calories.

But for some people, focusing too much on the scale can create or worsen concerns about food and weight, says Dr. Siega-Riz, so it’s only a good idea to weigh yourself as often as possible. you feel comfortable.

The good news is that you probably won’t need to count as many calories as you get older, because your appetite will naturally decrease to match your needs, Dr. Pontzer says.

But as you age, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the right nutritional balance, Dr. Roberts says.

For example, research shows that starting in your 50s, your body needs more of certain nutrients like calcium, vitamin B6, vitamin D and protein, even though you may generally eat fewer calories on a daily basis.

As a result, Dr. Siega-Riz says, you’ll need to spend more of your daily calorie intake on foods that give you more nutritional benefits, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and more. whole grains and lean protein sources.

Dr. Roberts agrees. When you’re in your 20s and 30s, she says, you may still have calories left over to buy chocolate, beer or a piece of cake. But if you’re in your 80s and only consuming about 1,500 calories a day, there’s less room for junk food, she says.

Dr. Roberts suggests that older adults should take a multivitamin to help fill in any nutritional gaps. But even then, a good diet is still necessary to ensure you’re getting other important nutrients like protein, fiber and healthy plant-based compounds, she says.

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