Staying slim was easy in your 20s. Not so much now that you’re in your 30s. Turn your body back into a lean, fat-burning machine with these lifestyle changes.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Staying slim was easy in your 20s. Not so much now that you’re in your 30s. Turn your body back into a lean, fat-burning machine with these lifestyle changes.

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Last year, Mediacorp actress Rui En lamented the difficulty of losing weight after turning 30. The then 34-year-old had put on several kilos for her role as frumpy auntie Zhen Hao in the Channel 8 drama If Only I Could and found it difficult to drop the extra weight. And it seems she’s not the only one with this problem. As we enter our 30s, we may find ourselves a few kilos heavier and fighting to regain our slimmer 20-something selves – a predicament, unfortunately, faced by women nationwide. Based on the 2010 National Health Survey (NHS) conducted by the Ministry of Health, 5.8 per cent of local women aged 18 to 29 are obese; the figure jumps to 8.7 per cent for those aged 30 to 39. “What’s more alarming is the rise in abdominal obesity – defined as a waist-hip ratio of more than 0.85 in females – in local women with age,” says Dr Tham Kwang Wei, senior consultant at the Department of Endocrinology at Singapore General Hospital. Based on the 2010 NHS, 8.4 per cent of women aged 18 to 29 have abdominal obesity, while 18.8 per cent of those aged 30 to 39 suffer from it. Dr Tham adds that as we age, a weight gain of 0.5kg to 1kg per year is not surprising. Excessive weight gain in adulthood though, particularly in the abdominal area, has been linked to “an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes in women.”


“Thirty is when you start to gradually lose muscle,” says Dr Christina Low, medical director at Lifescan Medical Centre. “As you lose muscle, the body’s natural calorie-burning ability, known as metabolism, slows. On top of that, as we age, the body no longer produces as much human growth hormone; this, too, contributes to a dip in your metabolic rate.” Then there’s childbearing and child rearing. “Most women find it hard to shed all the weight they gained during and after pregnancy,” says Dr Tham. “During a month-long confinement, for instance, a new mum would not exercise at all. She can afford to eat more if she’s breastfeeding, but once that stops, the extra calories [will cause weight gain] unless she works them off or eats less. Mums also tend to put their kids first, which means less time to exercise and prepare healthy, balanced meals for themselves.” A busy career also leaves little time for working out. “In my 20s, I exercised five times a week, for 45 minutes each time,” says finance executive Madeline Lim, 36. “Now, I’d be lucky to exercise twice a week. I’ve gained 6kg over the last five years. I wish I could burn it all off with extra sessions at the gym, but with my stressful career, I just don’t have the time or the energy. Generally, women in their 30s also have more disposable income, which often translates to more expensive habits and tastes. Says Joanne Goh, a 37-year-old communications executive: “Living with my parents in my 20s, I ate mostly home-cooked meals. Now that I have my own place and more money to spend, I don’t think twice about hosting dinner parties, going for champagne brunches or after-work drinks, and eating rich, multi-course meals at nice restaurants. I think I’ve gained about 7kg since my 33rd birthday.”


1. Do shorter but more intense workouts.

In your 20s: You had tons of energy and practically all the time in the world to devote to working out. In your 30s: Make the most of whatever time you do have to exercise, advises Paul Kuck, fitness coach and founder of fitness consulting firm Fitness Tutor. Swop those hour-long cardio sessions for short, high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Exercising at a higher intensity for a shorter period not only burns more fat than a longer, fixedspeed cardio session, it also keeps your metabolic rate elevated for hours after you’ve stopped. An average HIIT session lasts between 20 and 25 minutes. Paul suggests doing three rounds of star jumps, squats, on-the-spot jogging, planking, inverted rowing, L-dips, push-ups and jumping jacks. Spend 45 seconds on each exercise, with a 10-second break between each one.

2. Try resistance training.

In your 20s: You enjoyed a high resting metabolic rate, which made weight loss easy even if you weren’t that active. In your 30s: To boost your resting metabolic rate, strengthen your muscles with resistance training, says Dr Low. Resistance training makes your muscles work against a weight or force. Paul suggests doing squats, lunges, dead lifts, rowing and chest presses, all of which involve big muscle groups such as those in the back, legs and chest. A twice- or thrice-weekly resistance-training session is ideal to keep your muscles in tip-top condition – and those calories burning even when you’re at rest.

3. Eat to boost your metabolism.

In your 20s: You could get away with eating and drinking as you please – your speedy metabolism prevented your poor diet from having much of an effect on your weight. In your 30s: Speed up your body’s fat-burning processes by paying more attention to what you eat and when. Don’t skip breakfast, because the first meal usually influences your eating habits for the rest of the day. Include more metabolism-boosting foods in your diet – think lean protein, spices, almonds, beans, berries, plain coff ee and green tea. “Stay away from processed foods and stick to whole, nutrient-dense foods instead,” says Paul. “Your body has to work harder to digest whole foods, and this increases your metabolic rate too. Regular hydration is also important.”

4. Get adequate sleep.

In your 20s: Partying all night meant that you got by on very little sleep, but this didn’t affect your weight much. In your 30s: Make sleep a priority. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to hormonal changes that increase your appetite and make you crave highcalorie foods, says Dr Shanker Pasupathy, a general surgeon who specialises in bariatric surgery and metabolic disorders at Gleneagles Hospital. When you’re tired, you’re also less inclined to engage in even moderate physical activity. Aim for at least six hours of restful sleep a night.

5. Get a handle on stress.

In your 20s: With little to worry about, your life was more or less stress-free. In your 30s: With kids, a mortgage, ageing parents to look after, a successful but demanding career, and work-life-balance issues, it’s hard not to feel frazzled. But to prevent weight gain, Dr Pasupathy says that you have to get your stress levels under control. “When we’re stressed, the body responds by releasing a hormone called cortisol. High levels of cortisol cause your insulin levels to spike; this causes a drop in blood sugar, making you crave sugary and fatty foods.” Cortisol also encourages the body to hold on to fat, especially in the abdomen. While you may not be able to change what’s happening in your life, you can try to manage stress with exercise, quiet time or an enjoyable activity, and work on changing the way you see or deal with the challenges you’re facing.


Things headed south (or sideways) for these stars after 30, but they bounced back!

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1. Jessica Simpson, 36

The former pop princess gained 32kg after her first child at 32. She cut out carbs and sugar, and started a workout regime heavy on cardio and strength training to regain her svelte figure, and is now a Weight Watchers spokesperson!

2. Kelly Clarkson, 34

The American Idol alum’s metabolic rate dipped after she had kids in her 30s. But we love that this mama’s con dent about her full figure: “I have never put pressure on myself to lose weight, and I just rock with what I’ve got.” Preach!

3. Chantelle Houghton, 33

Booze and snacks caused this British television personality to pile on the pounds. Last year, she dropped from a UK size 16 to a size 10 after engaging a personal trainer and sticking to a healthy meal delivery plan.

4. Christine Kuo, 33

The Hong Kong-based actress was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in 2013, leading to weight gain –she even lost acting gigs and endorsements. But Christine stayed positive by picking up a new hobby – golf – and invested in a business with friends.