In 1978 Susie Orbach wrote her hugely successful and extremely influential anti-diet book Fat is a Feminist Issue, examining the complex relationship(s) women have with the shape of their bodies and with food, and what those said about women’s relationship with society. These days people usually refer to Obesity rather than Fat-ness, and obesity has become so widespread and affects such a high percentage of people that even though the issues discussed in her book are still relevant, they exist within a much wider spectrum of issues related to body-size. So although one can still say that fat is a feminist issue, it is also a “person-ist” issue, given its ubiquity, and with relevance to SGSC we can also say that it is an age issue.
This is because according to the the National Institutes of Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average young American adult gains 50 pounds of body fat by the time they reach 50. This process presumably continues through the rest of life, and looking at people generally it applies equally to the UK. Even if the gain does stop at 50, and there’s no reason it should, that’s a lot of extra baggage to be carrying around. The dangers and disadvantages of an excess of body fat over and above healthy norms - heart disease, diabetes, damage to skeletal joints, etc etc - have been discussed and shown to be the case to the extent that there is no argument about it.
But for Silver Grey athletes, or anyone wanting to pursue an active life when they are older, carrying that much extra weight is a serious drawback. This so called “Middle-age Spread” is both a symptom and a cause of slowing down as one gets older, a sign that the active, sporting life is getting harder to maintain. Losing one’s physicality under layers of fat is a downer both physically and mentally or emotionally.
Now scientists at the National Institutes of Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, may have discovered why it happens. According to the NIH website, “NIH scientist Dr. Jay H. Chung and his colleagues think they’ve identified the biological changes that can explain this weight gain. In studies with lab animals, they found that an enzyme known as DNA-PK (DNA-dependent protein kinase) slows down your metabolism, making fat harder to burn.
The team discovered that the muscles of mice and monkeys don’t show much DNA-PK activity until middle age. At middle age, the enzyme’s activity spiked.”
They then proceeded to block the enzyme in some of the mice, and fed all the mice a high-fat diet. The mice in whom the enzyme had been stopped from working did not gain as much weight as other mice and the fitness level of the treated mice was also higher.
“Our society attributes the weight gain and lack of exercise at mid-life (approximately 30–60 years) primarily to poor lifestyle choices and lack of will power, but this study shows that there is a genetic program driven by an overactive enzyme that promotes weight gain and loss of exercise capacity at mid-life,” Chung says.
Of course, there is no guarantee that this process could be transferred to humans, it may not work in humans or may have serious and as yet un known side effects. Even if it does work, a publicly available treatment will be many years away.
So in the meantime, there’s still no substitute for a good old-fashioned workout, along with good eating habits. And as we are ever so fond of saying, the working out that you need to do to keep the excess weight off also brings with it innumerable benefits. So until the magic pill arrives - and even when it does - keep up that gym membership or whatever activity floats your boat.