Lightening the Load of Obesity in Seniors
Much like those who adopt healthy living practices at an earlier age, older adults can feel immediate benefits of losing weight as well.
America is growing — in all the wrong places. In fact, at this moment, one-third of Americans aged 65 and older are considered obese. As this large pocket of the population ages, the weighty issue of obesity is following older adults into their senior years.
That’s alarming for a couple of reasons. First, the need for care and medical services will escalate to record proportions. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the 65-and-older age group is projected to more than double to almost 90 million by the year 2050. Thus, the financial strain of additional care will have a universal effect on Americans covering the costs.
Putting comprehensive concerns aside, obesity among our seniors hampers a better quality of life for our loved ones. Just as it is in younger demographics, packing extra pounds invites chronic disease to take hold. The onset of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes all increase when obesity is a factor.
The good news is that, much like those who adopt healthy living practices at an earlier age, older adults can feel immediate benefits of slimming down as well. The solution seems straightforward — diet and exercise — however, practicing a fitness routine does present some unique challenges for our seniors. Those areas are diet, exercise, and medication.
Society is rarely at a loss when it comes to the latest diet trends, but for older adults the more effective approach to weight loss is focusing on existing ailments and designing a diet that helps treat it.
In an article titled “Older Adults and Obesity — Is Dieting the Answer?,” Laura Newton, an assistant professor of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama, said, “For example, if they have hypertension, you may consider using the DASH diet. If it’s hyperlipidemia, then maybe it’s a low-fat diet you’d try.”
Contributor Lindsey Getz also noted that older adults naturally lose their sense of taste and often have difficulty chewing. “This can make adhering to certain dietary recommendations challenging.”
The concern mainly targets the need for protein.
“We need more as we age,” said Amy Campbell, a registered dietician and diabetes specialist in the US News article, “Best Diets for Seniors.” “A lack of protein puts people at risk for lower immune function and osteoporosis.”
Fortunately, there are a number of alternative sources of protein in eggs, beans and a variety of fruits and vegetables. The key is to find a diet that encourages a lifelong change instead of a temporary fix. For older adults, that often means simplicity.
“For diets in general, it’s best to try and make it easy and fit comfortably into a person’s life,” said Campbell. “Ones that promote good health but are as easy to follow as possible.”
Unlike those half their age, older adults cannot merely “go to the gym” and sweat off some calories. Many seniors have limited mobility and muscle mass that makes conventional exercise routines difficult. Fortunately, many fitness centers offer specific exercise programs to benefit older adults.
“Exercise can help make you stronger, prevent bone loss, improve balance and coordination, lift your mood, boost your memory, and ease the symptoms of many chronic conditions,” wrote contributor R. Morgan Griffin in the article “Myths About Exercise and Older Adults.”
Walking, yoga classes, light weight-bearing routines, swimming, water aerobics, elliptical machines among others, all offer opportunities to build muscle mass while burning unhealthy fat.
“Exercise improves more than your physical health,” added Griffin. “It can also boost memory and help prevent dementia. And it can help you maintain your independence and your way of life. If you stay strong and agile as you age, you’ll be more able to keep doing the things you enjoy and less likely to need help.”
Another benefit is the social aspect. The opportunity for companionship creates added incentive to keep up with the exercise and enjoy positive, supportive interaction along the way.
Because the majority of older adults are currently treating pre-existing conditions, medications present a unique challenge for weight loss. If a doctor has recommended your senior loved one lose weight, a registered dietician is a helpful addition to the program.
“Older adults tend to take more medications than younger adults, so it’s important to account for how weight loss may affect dosing,” explained Joan Salge Blake, a professor at Boston University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “For example, if your patient is on hypertension medications and starts losing a lot of weight, that medication may need to be readjusted.”
Blake also pointed out that the types of foods can influence a medication’s effectiveness, as well. “The diet needs to not only be nutritionally balanced but also in line with other things going on in the person’s life, such as their medication regimen. It’s important for more people to realize that they shouldn’t just pick a diet from a fad book, but they should seek the guidance of a dietician who will look at the medical history and any medications the patient is on.”
Good health is something one should never outgrow. By making long-term changes in diet, committing to regular exercise and monitoring medications as our health improves, we can enjoy the benefits of healthy living and a better quality of life. Now, that’s something we can live with.