Obesity in seniors is a much bigger problem than many people realize. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of the adults over the age of 65 are obese(1). This may seem like a problem that’s unique to developed countries, but the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that obesity rates are on the rise in developing countries as well. One of the most significant complications of obesity in the elderly is metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. These risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels. While obesity is a serious problem in seniors, it’s important to remember that not all seniors are obese. In fact, many seniors are at a healthy weight. But for those who are obese, losing weight can be difficult. There are a number of reasons why weight loss may be a hard task for seniors. We’ll explore some of these reasons below.
1. Older Adults Tend To Have A Slower Metabolism
As we age, our bodies become less efficient at burning calories. This is due in part to a decrease in muscle mass. Since muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue, seniors often have a harder time losing weight than younger adults (2).
2. Older Adults Often Have Health Conditions That Make Losing Weight More Difficult
Many seniors have health conditions that make it difficult to lose weight. These conditions can make it harder to exercise and more difficult to process nutrients from food. Some common health conditions that can make weight loss more difficult include arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes.
Hormonal imbalances are common in seniors and can make it difficult to lose weight. For example, older adults are more likely to have low levels of the hormone testosterone. This can lead to a decrease in muscle mass and an increase in body fat. For women, menopause can also lead to hormonal imbalances that make it difficult to lose weight (5).
3. Older Adults May Not Be Getting Enough Exercise
Inactivity can make it more difficult to lose weight, regardless of age (8). But seniors are often less active than younger adults. This may be due to a number of factors, including chronic health conditions, a lack of transportation, and limited access to safe places to exercise. Joint pain, weakness, and balance problems also make exercise more inaccessible for this age group.
4. Older Adults May Have Difficulty Accessing Healthy Foods
Seniors may have difficulty accessing healthy foods for a number of reasons. They may live in food deserts, which are areas without access to fresh fruits and vegetables. They may also have trouble cooking for themselves or may not be able to afford healthy foods.
Read More: Yoga For Seniors: Poses, Benefits, And Risks
5. Older Adults May Not Be Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep is important for weight loss (10). When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies produce more of the hormone ghrelin, which increases appetite. In addition, when we’re tired we’re more likely to make poor food choices and to have less energy to exercise.
There are a number of things seniors can do to lose weight. We’ll explore some of these options below.
Why Traditional Weight Loss Methods May Not Work For Seniors
While the best weight loss strategy for seniors varies from person to person, there are some general principles that can be applied. First, it’s important to understand that seniors often have different weight loss needs than younger adults.
This is due in part to the factors we discussed above.For example, many seniors have slower metabolisms and may not be able to exercise as much as younger adults. They may also have health conditions that make it difficult to lose weight.
And finally, they may have difficulty accessing healthy foods or getting enough sleep.With this in mind, let’s take a look at some common weight loss strategies and why they may not work for seniors.
1. Cutting Calories May Not Be Effective
Since seniors often have slower metabolisms, cutting calories may not be the best weight loss strategy. In fact, it may even be harmful. This is because when we cut calories, our bodies go into starvation mode and start to hold on to fat stores. This can lead to a decrease in muscle mass and a plateau in weight loss.
2. Exercise May Not Be Enough
While exercise is important for weight loss, it may not be enough for seniors. This is because many seniors have chronic health conditions that make it difficult to exercise with the frequency and intensity necessary to lose weight. In addition, seniors often have difficulty accessing safe places to exercise and may not be able to exercise for long periods of time.
3. Traditional Diet Plans May Not Be Appropriate
Traditional diet plans may also not be appropriate for seniors. This is because they often lack the nutrients that seniors need, such as protein and fiber. In addition, they may be difficult to follow for seniors who have trouble cooking for themselves or who have limited access to healthy foods.
4. Weight Loss Supplements May Not Be Safe
Many weight loss supplements on the market are not regulated by the FDA and may not be safe for seniors to take. In addition, some of these supplements may interact with medications that seniors are taking for other health conditions. This can be dangerous and even life-threatening.
5. Surgery May Not Be An Option
Weight loss surgery is usually only recommended for people who are obese and have not been able to lose weight through other means. However, seniors often have chronic health conditions that make them ineligible for surgery. In addition, surgery is a risky procedure that can have serious complications.
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The Best Way For Seniors To Lose Weight
Seniors require a nuanced approach to weight loss. This is because they often have different needs than younger adults. With this in mind, below are some of the best ways for seniors to lose weight without sacrificing their health.
1. Setting Realistic Weight Loss Goals
The body mass index, or BMI, is a widely used indicator of health. Generally, people fall into one of four categories based on BMI; underweight (BMI of less than 18.5), normal weight (BMI of 18.5 to 24.9), overweight (BMI of 25 to 29.9), and obese (BMI of 30 or greater).
For seniors, a healthy BMI is often different than for younger adults. This is because muscle mass and bone density often decline with age, which can lead to a higher BMI even if a person is not overweight (12). In fact, research shows lower rates of mortality in seniors with a BMI of 25 to 29.9, compared to those with a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9.
Based on this research, it’s important for seniors to set realistic weight loss goals. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a 5-10% reduction in weight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, your goal would be to lose 10-20 pounds.
Rather than numbers on the scale, seniors should focus on body composition and muscle conservation. This means maintaining muscle mass while losing fat. It’s especially important because sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, is a major contributor to frailty and disability in seniors.
2. Increasing Physical Activity
As we age, it becomes increasingly important to stay active (11). This is because regular physical activity can help offset some of the muscle mass and bone density loss that occurs with age. This can also help improve balance and coordination, which can reduce the risk of falls.
Most importantly, it can improve body composition by expending more calories than sedentary activities.There are many ways for seniors to increase their physical activity. One option is to join a senior fitness program at a local gym or community center. These classes are often geared towards older adults and can be a great way to stay active and meet new people.
Another option is to simply walk more. This can be done by parking further away from buildings, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or going for a daily walk with a friend or family member.
Enjoyment, ease of participation, and social support are important factors to consider when choosing an activity. The best activities for seniors are those that they enjoy and can do on a regular basis.
3. A High Protein Diet
Age-related loss of muscle has a domino effect on weight management in seniors. This gets in the way of physical activity, which can lead to weight gain, and it makes it difficult to lose weight when calorie restriction is necessary.
Protein is the key nutrient for maintaining muscle mass. It’s also essential for other functions in the body, such as immune function, hormone production, and enzyme synthesis. For these reasons, a high protein diet is often recommended for seniors.
Protein needs increase with age, and they’re especially important for seniors who are physically active or trying to lose weight. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight (4).
So, a 150-pound senior would need 54 grams of protein per day. More active seniors or those trying to lose weight may need more protein, up to 1 gram per pound of body weight.
Good sources of protein include lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and nuts. Seniors can also get protein from supplements, such as whey or casein protein powder.
4. Outsmarting Your Metabolism
Drastic cuts in calories can backfire, especially in seniors. Their metabolism is already slower than younger adults, so eating too little can further slow down the rate at which they burn calories.
Eating small, frequent meals is also important for seniors. This helps to keep their metabolism going and prevents hunger from setting in. A better approach is to make small, gradual changes to your diet.
For example, rather than eliminating all carbs, try cutting back on refined carbs, such as white bread and pasta. Or, rather than going on a juice cleanse, focus on adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.
These small changes can add up over time and help you lose weight in a sustainable way. Additionally, they’ll help you avoid the hunger and cravings that often lead to binge eating.
5. Choosing The Right Diet
Aside from weight loss, seniors may also have other goals when it comes to their diet. For example, they may want to improve their cholesterol levels or reduce their risk of heart disease. Several diets stand out as smart choices for seniors.
The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan that’s high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. It’s been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes (6).
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is another heart-healthy diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. It’s been shown to lower blood pressure and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels (3).
The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets. It’s specifically designed to protect brain health and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (7).
These diets are all rich in nutrients that are important for seniors, such as fiber, potassium, and vitamin D. They’re also relatively easy to follow and can be adapted to fit your individual preferences and needs.
Making healthy choices about what you eat is an important part of managing your weight as a senior. By following a healthy diet, you can reduce your risk of weight gain, maintain your muscle mass, and keep your metabolism going strong.
6. Coping With Age-Related Stress
As we age, our physical and societal roles often change. We may retire from our jobs, our kids may move away, and we may lose loved ones. These changes can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression.
Poor coping skills can make these feelings worse and lead to emotional eating. You may also become less active, which can make it harder to lose weight. If you’re struggling to cope with age-related stress, there are several things you can do.
First, focus on maintaining social connections. Join a club, take a class, or volunteer. Spending time with others can help reduce stress and promote positive emotions.
Second, make time for activities you enjoy. This can help take your mind off of stressful thoughts and give you a sense of purpose.
Third, practice stress-reducing techniques, such as meditation or yoga. These activities can help you relax and focus on the present moment.
Age-related stress is a normal part of life, but it’s important to find healthy ways to cope with it. By using these strategies you can avoid emotional eating and maintain a healthy weight.
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7. Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep plays an important role in regulating our metabolism (8). When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies produce more of the stress hormone cortisol. This can lead to increased appetite and weight gain.
Sleep deprivation can also lead to insulin resistance, which is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Additionally, it can impair cognitive function and increase the risk of accidents.
For seniors, getting enough sleep is especially important. As we age, our sleep patterns often change. We may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep through the night. These changes can lead to sleep deprivation, which can in turn cause weight gain.
There are several things you can do to promote better sleep as a senior. First, establish a regular sleep schedule and stick to it as much as possible. This will help your body get into a rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep at night.
Second, create a relaxing bedtime routine. This can include reading, taking a bath, or listening to calming music. Third, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed. Both of these substances can interfere with sleep.
Fourth, make sure your sleeping environment is comfortable and dark. A quiet, cool room will help you fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Finally, avoid working or watching television in bed. This can make it harder to relax and fall asleep.
By following these tips, you can promote better sleep and avoid weight gain.
The Bottom Line
Seniors often have different weight loss needs than younger adults. This is due in part to the fact that they often have slower metabolisms, chronic health conditions, and difficulty accessing healthy foods or getting enough sleep.
With this in mind, traditional weight loss methods, such as cutting calories, exercising, and following a diet plan, may not be appropriate or effective for seniors. Weight loss supplements and surgery are also not recommended for this population.
If you’re a senior who is interested in losing weight, use the tips above, and consult with your doctor to develop a safe and effective weight loss plan that is right for you.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Adult Obesity Facts (2022, nih.gov)
- [Aging, basal metabolic rate, and nutrition] (1993, nih.gov)
- Description of the DASH Eating Plan (2021, nih.gov)
- How much protein do you need every day? (2021, nih.gov)
- Obesity and hormones (2016, betterhealth.vic.gov.au)
- Mediterranean Diet (2021, nih.gov)
- MIND diet, common brain pathologies, and cognition in community-dwelling older adults (2021, nih.gov)
- Physical activity key to keeping weight off (2017, nih.gov)
- Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview (2010, nih.gov)
- The association between sleep health and weight change during a 12-month behavioral weight loss intervention (2021, nih.gov)
- The Importance of Physical Activity Exercise among Older People (2018, nih.gov)
- Weight and Body Mass Index in Old Age: Do They Still Matter? (2018, nih.gov)