Whoever Thought Growing Old Might Be Connected With Gaining Weight?
Many of us imagine growing old with becoming thin and frail. In reality obesity is the fate for one of four of us over the age of 50 years. During the next two decades the number of us that are going to be obese is anticipated to greatly increase, as the obese members of the Baby Boom generation age.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index over 30. Sarcopenic obesity (a body composition associated with declining muscle mass with aging) and growing intra-abdominal body fat are prevalent conditions with the elderly. Both of these nuances have an especially great impact upon the health of seniors.
The concern of gaining weight is the fact that being overweight or obese entails greater risk of cardiovascular disease, disabling orthopedic conditions, diabetes mellitus, some types of cancer and even dementia. Astonishingly more than $90 billion a year in health care expenditures is related to obesity. Medicare pays for about 40 percent of these costs.
So why is that so many seniors are obese? One reason is that fewer than 40 percent get enough exercise to maintain healthy weight. Basal metabolic rate (the speed that calories are burned at rest) decreases with age and therefore exercise gains importance. Another cause of obesity is that protein synthesis decreases with age and hence muscles tend to shrink.
Changing the Course of Weight Gain
With any weight loss plan exercise needs to be an integral part. By staying physically active calories are burned, cardiovascular fitness is improved and lean body mass is increased or maintained. Muscle burns proportionately more calories than fat tissue.
Optimal aerobic exercise is achieved by reaching a target heart rate for at least twenty minutes. This rate can be calculated by subtracting age from 220 and multiplying by 0.6. Of course, consult with your physician first if you have been sedentary and plan to start a regular exercise program. He may offer strategies for working around disabilities.
Success in reaching a goal weight also entails following a nutritious diet. The right balances of nutrients helps to optimize the rate calories are burned. Both exercise and a healthy diet also can increase a sense of well being, thus making it easier to remain motivated.
The Easy Fix
We are all bombarded by marketing for miracle weight loss supplements and drugs. Advertisements for surgical procedures are also everywhere. You might be asking yourself if there is an easy fix. In reality, for most of us, supplements and drugs to successfully promote and maintain weight loss would require nothing short of a miracle. For the aged population most weight loss drugs carry serious risks. Supplements, in some instances, can be dangerous as well. Operations to decrease stomach size are generally avoided in the elderly.
Sound Dietary Advice
The USDA Food Guide Pyramid translates the number of servings of the five major food groups a person should consume to maintain a healthy diet. By following these nutritional guidelines a person stands a better chance of remaining healthy. Women over 50 should consume at least six servings of vegetables and fruit a day; men over 50 at least 6.4 servings. Fats, oils and sweets need to be consumed sparingly. One published study showed that most overestimate the number of healthy foods consumed and underestimate the number of unhealthy foods. Our diet needs to begin with honesty.
Yes, there is a new fad diet in the media on a continual basis, many of which advocate a very high protein or high fat menu. One final word of caution is to realize that these diets might enable weight loss in the short run but they often are a recipe for poor health in the long run.
Mark Howard, MD, is a family medicine specialist with Progress West Primary Care.