Diet and Weight Loss in Older Adults

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Are you obese and over 65? Obesity is becoming more and more common in older age groups and can cause or contribute to a variety of unwelcome conditions:

  • Higher levels of inflammation throughout the body
  • Slower and less efficient muscle repair
  • Diminished strength per pound of weight
  • Mobility limitations
  • Slower walking and moving
  • More difficulty with stairs

Frailty

All of these problems can make life more difficult. In addition, obese older adults are more likely to be frail, and frailty carries its own set of challenges, including;

  • Exhaustion
  • Weakness, typically measured in grip strength
  • Slow walking
  • Low physical activity
  • Higher likelihood of falling, becoming disabled or being hospitalized
  • Unintentional weight loss

It’s intuitive to associate frailty with thinness, and even doctors have been slow to understand that people of all weights can be frail. In fact, recent studies show that being obese can actually make frailty worse.

Losing weight when you’re older

The good news is that targeted, intentional weight loss can help alleviate symptoms of both frailty and obesity. This means that getting stronger and healthier can help you live longer and raise your quality of life throughout your lifetime. When choosing the best diet as you reach your 60s and older, keep in mind:

  • The way food tastes and smells changes as you age. If your favorites do not appeal to you the way they did when you were younger, try new foods! This can be an exciting adventure.
  • Older adults have lower levels of the hormones that trigger hunger and higher levels of those associated with fullness. So you may feel full after smaller portions. Taking cues from what your body is telling you can help you to lose weight.
  • To maintain muscle mass when losing weight, older adults need more protein than younger people. Enjoy eggs and lean meat!

No matter what your age, exercise can help with weight loss. Read more information here. Older adults can play some sports, join a gym or walk with friends. If you aren’t already exercising, a physical therapist can help you find ways to move your body that you can enjoy without risking injury. Your exercise plan will likely include:

Small changes

Even a 5-10% weight loss can mean significant changes for your health, longevity and happiness. Get a doctor’s help in designing a diet plan for older adults, and then work with a physical therapist to develop an exercise regimen that is safe and fun. It takes focus and a bit of effort, but losing weight will pay off in huge dividends!

Citations
Akhmedov and Berdeaux. The Effects of obesity on skeletal muscle regeneration. Front.Physiol. 17 December 2013. 10.3389/fphys.2013.00371.

CDC/NHS Nation Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2007-1010.
https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/index.htm

Donini LM, Savina C, Cannella C. Eating Habits and Appetite Control in the Elderly: The Anorexia of Aging. International Psychogeriatrics. 2003;15(1):73-87. DOI: 10.1017/S1041610203008779.

Fried, Linda P., Catherine M. Tangen, Jeremy Walston, Anne B. Newman, Calvin Hirsch, John Gottdiener, Teresa Seeman, Russell Tracy, Willem J. Kop, Gregory Burke, Mary Ann McBurnie, Frailty in Older Adults: Evidence for a Phenotype, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 56, Issue 3, 1 March 2001, Pages M146–M157, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/56.3.M146

Inzitari, M., Doets, E., Bartali, B. et al. J Nutr Health Aging (2011) 15: 599. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-011-0053-1

Kim, Chang-O, Kyung-Ryun Lee, Stephen Kritchevsky, Preventive Effect of Protein-Energy Supplementation on the Functional Decline of Frail Older Adults With Low Socioeconomic Status: A Community-Based Randomized Controlled Study, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 68, Issue 3, March 2013, Pages 309–316, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/gls167

Schenk S, Saberi M, Olefsky JM. Insulin sensitivity: modulation by nutrients and inflammation. J Clin Invest. 2008 Sep;118(9):2992-3002. doi: 10.1172/JCI34260. Review. PubMed PMID: 18769626; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2522344.

Stenholm S, Harris TB, Rantanen T, Visser M, Kritchevsky SB, Ferrucci L. Sarcopenic obesity: definition, cause and consequences. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008 Nov;11(6):693-700. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328312c37d. Review. PubMed PMID: 18827572; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2633408.

Villareal DT, Banks M, Sinacore DR, Siener C, Klein S. Effect of Weight Loss and Exercise on Frailty in Obese Older Adults. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(8):860–866. doi:10.1001/archinte.166.8.860

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