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Where did my 20-year-old body go?

Bookmark and Share Age may be just a number, but the physical changes that creep up as the birthdays add up are very real. "Aside from the natural wear and tear our bodies experience as we age," says Andrew Cohen, MD, Virtua family physician, "there are specific metabolic changes that impact our daily activities."

Here are some simple explanations as to why your body isn't what it used to be.

I used to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. Now, I ache just thinking about it.
Decreased muscle mass may be to blame for this age-related nuisance. "No two people metabolize alcohol at the same rate," says Dr. Cohen. "Body weight, muscle mass, and gender impact our ability to clear alcohol from our systems." As we age, muscle mass declines, increasing the effects of a glass of wine.

He adds that while some studies suggest certain foods or liquids in our stomach can affect alcohol absorption, one thing remains clear: "Moderation is the key. Drink responsibly and maintain a healthy diet."

I'm eating exactly what I did when I was 20. Why am I gaining weight?
Mary Campagnolo, MD, chief of family medicine at Virtua Memorial, says the answer is simple: "As we get older, our bodies require less calories to maintain weight." So, what you ate when you were twentysomething, may be too much food for your fiftysomething- year-old body today.

"Though metabolism does slow as we age, there are things we can do to combat weight gain," she says. "Maintain a healthy lifestyle complete with a diet that is rich in nutrients, and exercise to prevent obesity and obesity-related illnesses."

I used to dance for exercise. I'd like to start again, but my body isn't bouncing back like it did before.
Dr. Cohen has a lot of experience working with athletes, and often sees many exercisers who overdo it in the first few weeks of a new training program. "Recovery is just as important as exercise itself," he says. "Exercise is a wonderful way to keep your body healthy but too much can be detrimental. Try to incorporate a balanced workout rather than focus on one activity."

I never used to get heartburn. Now, it wakes me up from a night's sleep. Eating a big meal too soon before bed can cause heartburn. "As we get older, it takes a bit longer to digest food, especially when lying down," says Dr. Campagnolo. "In that position, acid from your stomach can seep into your esophagus and cause heartburn."

A healthy diet along with avoiding big meals two to three hours before bedtime may solve your problem. If not, try an over-the-counter medicine to reduce acid production. And, if heartburn persists for more than two weeks, see your physician.

Want three rules for a healthy life?
Read Dr. Campagnolo's simple tips for healthy living.