Has anyone been able to maintain their waist size as they age?
October 4, 2021 3:48 AM   Subscribe

I was curious about waist circumference increasing as we age and found the official explanation below, but I'm skeptical. I'm interested in hearing people's direct experience in the real world--does everyone's waist size (for pants, belts) always go up (assuming you're able keep BMI constant)? Thanks.

Official story: "We tend to lose muscle mass, so our abdominal muscles aren't as tight as they once were, and the loss of elastin and collagen in our skin allows gravity to have its way so skin starts to sag. Both can cause the waistline to expand. We also lose height as the discs between our vertebrae compress, shrinking the vertical space in our abdominal cavity and expanding it outward."
posted by Jon44 to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Late 50s here. My waistline grew from 28" to 32" in a couple of years in my mid 20s, and has stayed exactly the same ever since. My stomach isn't as flat as it used to be, probably for the reasons mentioned in your official story, but my waist is the same. Looking at my father in his 80s, I can expect to grow a big belly but not expand so much on the waistline.
posted by fuzz at 4:07 AM on October 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you keep your BMI/Weight constant; no. As you point out; we lose muscle mass as we age. But it's not just that it will affect your abdominal's. If you're mass is staying the same, but you're losing muscle, what are you gaining? Hint, it's not bone, tendons and brain mass. It's fat! Fat is less dense then muscle, so it takes up more space.

On men, fat is more likely to form around the abdominal area. So if you stay the same weight as you age; your arms/legs are getting skinnier but your adbominal area gets larger. In order to keep the same waist size over decades of aging, you need to lose weight over time.

I was a size 36 inch waist at age 25. Around age 37 I lost weight, and have been a 33/34 since then; currently age 45.
posted by nobeagle at 4:40 AM on October 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

It was relatively easy for me to stay fit when I was in my early 20s - because I still had a young body with young muscles, and tbh I didn't have much else going on back then. So I had time for the gym etc.

As we get into late 20s, 30s and older we have so much more going on - family, career, etc. Added to which - older muscles take a lot longer to respond even if you have time for the gym. It's not to say it's impossible to keep the same body shape - just that you'd need an ever-increasing commitment of time & effort to do so as the years wear on, and for a lot of people it isn't their very highest priority throughout all those years.

FWIW, I'm early-fifties guy with 36" waist. In my early twenties, I prob had 28" waist.
posted by rd45 at 4:50 AM on October 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

A few months ago I decided that at the age of 63 it was about time that I learned to swim while I was still young. I now go swimming (more like thrashing about in the water)5 days a week. My weight has gone up slightly but the old beer belly is nearly gone. I used to squeeze into 34 inch jeans, now I squeeze into 32 inch.
posted by night_train at 4:55 AM on October 4, 2021 [12 favorites]

All the women on my maternal side have remained slim well into their 70s-90s. I frequently point out to my underweight mother that she eats more than I do (she grazes all day) whenever she makes jibes about my waistline.

Unfortunately, I take after my short, pudgy father who remains pudgy even with vigorous daily exercise so weight has been a problem all my life. My mother somehow burns off everything she eats but for me, it goes straight to my waist.

A lot of it is genetics.
posted by whitelotus at 5:23 AM on October 4, 2021 [11 favorites]

Speaking from hard experience as a menopausal woman:
  • Via nutrition: Keep your body fat from increasing (not easy to do as we age), or decrease it, and your waist circumference won't increase. Often this means one needs to eat fewer calories UNLESS you are strength training, in which case you can and should eat more on training days.
  • Strength maintenance / gains are orthogonal to body fat percentage. Exercise by itself will help you build or maintain muscle. Exercise by itself does not decrease body fat. Nutrition is what does that.
  • Forget BMI. Absolutely forget it. It's a meaningless number, driven by scales, which are blunt instruments better for weighing canteloupe. Tape measures and how your clothes fit are your best friends in monitoring a healthy body fat percentage.

posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:26 AM on October 4, 2021 [9 favorites]

White male, 62. I've lost 20+ pounds and kept it off since the beginning of the pandemic. I did this with Keto, and yes, YMMV. I was walking until a health issue cropped up six months ago, but I've substituted a very brief free weight workout and continued to keep it off. Waist size is down by three or four inches, depending on the day of the week. Talk to your doctor. If the doctor doesn't help, demand a consult with a nutritionist. If problems persist, a consult with an endocrinologist may be in order (be prepared to wait–it's an "underserved specialty"). Abjure sugar in all its forms, and remember this is an issue of hormone signaling, rather than sheer volume of food.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 5:43 AM on October 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

There's no law of nature that people lose muscle mass with age. Click over here to see a scan of the leg of three people: middle-aged athlete, older sedentary person, and older athlete. Guess which two images look almost identical? Genetics matter and age matters, but activity level has a huge effect. (Disclaimer: Everyone's different, and it's complicated. For instance, the ability to keep active can also depend on genetics and age.)

Personally, I'm 50ish, male, and naturally skinny, and my waist size has been basically constant over the past 30 years. It's gone up slightly only when I've made a concerted effort to bulk up by weight training and eating more, and then returned to baseline when I got too lazy to continue.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:26 AM on October 4, 2021 [9 favorites]

Mid-50s female. From my teens until now, my waist has been between 26 and 27 inches, but I have three advantages: 1) I haven't had kids, 2) my abs have always been naturally super strong, and 3) I'm still menstruating. Maybe this will change when my periods finally stop.

Not mentioned yet is the fact of menopausal back fat. How is it that no matter how fit a woman is, if you're viewing her from behind you can almost always tell that she's older? Answer: Back fat. Took me a long time to figure this out and I'm not sure why it's not discussed more often. Even if it's not a lot, it's a different weight distribution that you don't often see on fit younger people. I'm just starting to get it now so I assume a thicker waist is on its way.
posted by HotToddy at 6:37 AM on October 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I gained a lot of both waist and weight in the past seven years or so. I am a 58-year-old woman.
posted by NotLost at 6:51 AM on October 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I birthed babies at 35, 36, and 40. After the last one my skin did not rebound and I’ve tended since then to add more weight abdominally than I used to. However, my activity level went up between 43-47 and so my waist size came down to where my wedding dress is loose in the waist. But the amount of activity it’s taken from 47-50 (current age) to maintain that is observably more. I’m noticing a bit of back fat too although also still menstruating.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:10 AM on October 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Male, 44, 5'7". I was ~170lb and a 34" waist in high school, which steadily ticked up to 225lb and a 38" waist in my late 30s/early 40s. A little over a year ago, I got serious about counting calories with My Fitness Pal and exercising regularly, and am now down to 143lb with a 31-32" waist. My morning routine for the past year and a half or so has been a daily walk of 4 miles (and sometimes another in the evening), stretching, and 50 push-ups and 50 crunches. I had to work up to both when I got started. But my stomach is flatter and tighter than I can ever remember it being, and I feel great. I don't know what all that indicates, besides that trends are sometimes reversible?
posted by xedrik at 8:37 AM on October 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

My mom, who will turn 70 soon, has commented to me that her waist is bigger than it used to be although she has been about the same weight and same clothing size for basically her entire adult life. She is very active and probably doesn’t have significantly less muscle than she had 30 years ago, though of course she may have somewhat less. I’m not sure if she has shrunk at all - it’s possible, but not more than half an inch or so at most.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:47 AM on October 4, 2021

The official explanation you posted does not support your proposition that everyone sees an increase in their waist size (at the same weight) as they age. It says that three things tend to happen, not that they always happen.
posted by muddgirl at 12:00 PM on October 4, 2021

I’m not skinny, but my weight is towards the upper end of the current definition of normal — about where it has always been throughout adulthood as long as I’m reasonably fit and active and haven’t been overindulging. I have a suit that I bought when I was twenty which fits just fine* forty-three years later, so no, an expanding waist is not inevitable at least into late middle age.

*The fit is fine, but I’m still waiting for the wide lapels and flares to come back into fashion.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 12:11 PM on October 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

In the quote you chose, saying people "tend to" lose muscle mass -- you can lift weights and build muscle, and if you manage to keep your BMI constant during this process you would lose mass from somewhere other than your muscles.

If you are losing height, and you want your BMI to stay the same, you would also need to loose weight. The quote doesn't seem to answer that, it just talks about getting shorter.
posted by yohko at 8:59 PM on October 4, 2021

I'm not sure that everyone's body works the same in the same conditions, and I know that everyone's body does not go through the same set of conditions.

In my middle age, I'm a few pounds heavier than I was at 18, and it's definitely more fat than it was, but it doesn't sit on my waist so my waist size is (by shop sizes, which are probably not the best measure) much the same as back then.

It feels to me like generic rules like this will have a ton of exceptions.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 10:23 PM on October 4, 2021

I'm 46 have kept the same waist size since high school. Like, I have a belt from seventh grade until it gave up the ghost a couple of years ago. Of course, it helps to be built like Hank Hill so YMMV.
posted by stet at 3:39 PM on October 5, 2021

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