Experience tells us — and research confirms — that as we age we tend to put on weight. And, as anyone knows who has tried to lose those extra pounds after the age of 50, getting rid of them is no easy feat during the latter stages of life.
Causes of Weight Gain
“As you get older, several things happen,” says Dr. Steven Heymsfield, a professor and Director of the Metabolism-Body Composition Laboratory at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
“People tend to get slightly shorter because they lose bone. They also tend to lose muscle. Maintaining the same weight requires fewer calories, but people don’t generally eat less. And, as people get older, there is more osteoarthritis, knee and hip problems, which limit mobility. Therefore, they are less physically active.”
But those extra pounds can have serious consequences.
Risks of Being Overweight/Obese
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and estimated 112,000 excess deaths per year are associated with obesity. Being overweight or obese puts you at greater risk for more than 30 chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, gallstones, fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, degenerative joint disease, asthma and other respiratory conditions, and numerous cancers.
Unfortunately, many older Americans are currently facing those increased risks: Three quarters of American men and 60 percent of American women are overweight or obese, with the greatest prevalence occurring among men ages 50 to 54 (80 percent) and women ages 60 to 64 (73 percent), according to a global burden of disease study published in the Lancet in 2014.
That study looked at people with a BMI (body mass index) of 25 or higher. But even if you adjust BMI to 30 or above, looking only at obesity (versus overweight), as does the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), you still find nearly 40 percent of adults ages 60 and over hitting that threshold.
Dr. Heymsfield recommends finding ways to stay as physically active as possible to lose some of those extra pounds, or at least prevent gaining any more weight.
“We want people to be ambulatory and do exercises that keep them fit to the extent possible,” he says. “Walk, run, lift weights if you can, if you’re capable of doing it.”
And, he added, even those who might think they can’t do much because they’ve been leading a sedentary life for so long, shouldn’t think it’s too late to get moving.
“What I found in my practice was that people who do have impairments from obesity often benefit from getting professional advice from a trainer or physical therapist because they might be able to do more than they thought, even with these limitations.”
The CDC recommends that adults ages 65 and older who are physically able follow these guidelines for staying active:
* Engage in muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week to work all major muscle groups (such as legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms), plus
* 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking), 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (such as jogging or running) or a mix of moderate and vigorous activity each week.
In addition to staying active, Dr. Heymsfield recommends a diet high in protein and low in saturated fat and calories. “Unless you decrease your calorie intake as you get older, you’re going to gain weight,” he says.