For Seniors: How About Losing Weight Today?
Much to our dismay, it is quite common for people to gain weight as they age.
Some of the gain is unavoidable, because as your body ages, body fat increases as lean muscle mass and bone mass decrease. Body fat doubles over the 5 decades from age 25 to age 75. Body weight increases until you reach age 60, when it begins to decline.
Less lean body mass needs fewer calories to maintain, and a more sedentary lifestyle that often accompanies aging also requires fewer calories. Because of these reasons, daily caloric needs fall from age 30 to age 80.
If you continue to eat the same amount of food that you did when younger, you will gain weight.
The most effective methods for losing weight are familiar: Exercise to burn calories and to build and maintain muscle, and/or limit the intake of calories.
Health experts suggest to prevent weight gain you get at least 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity (intense enough to make you breathe slightly harder, but not so hard that you're huffing and puffing or unable to carry on a conversation) on most days of the week, and 60 to 90 minutes per day for weight loss and maintaining weight loss. You don’t have to get all the exercise at 1 time; 10 minutes of activity at a time is fine. Just make sure your exercise sessions add up to the total recommended minutes on most days. This can be achieved with activities such as walking, gardening, dancing, and even cleaning the house or car. Activities such as walking, biking, and swimming are good for burning calories.
Exercise, particularly strength-training routines that require you to lift or push weights, done 2 to 3 times a week, replace fat with muscle. This is important because muscle burns more calories than fat does. Balance and flexibility (stretching) exercises are also important because they help prevent falls.
When thinking about how to change your eating habits, remember that 1 pound of body weight contains about 3,500 calories. To lose a pound a week, you would need to cut back on your calories by about 500 calories a day.
A balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can be particularly beneficial for people trying to lose weight. The USDA recommends the following for healthy people:
Eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables and 6 or more servings of grain products every day.
Avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in whole milk products and fatty meats; trans fats are found in fried foods and margarine. Also avoid high-calorie, low-nutrition foods like candy and soft drinks. Your fat intake should be 20% to 35% of your total daily calories; only 10% of your total daily calories should be from saturated fat. Keep trans fats as low as possible.
About 45% to 65% of total calories should come from carbohydrates. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and milk products contain carbohydrates, and they all are important to a healthy diet.
The CDC recommends that you consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. (One teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg.) Please note that the American Heart Association recommends a daily sodium target of less than 1,500 mg a day.
Eat fish, legumes (beans), skinless poultry, lean meats, and low-fat or nonfat milk products regularly.
Don't ignore your water intake
As you age, your sense of thirst diminishes. Because you may not feel thirsty, you may forget to drink water, which can lead to mild dehydration. A fever or other illness, or hot weather, can lead to severe dehydration. To prevent dehydration, drink water regularly, even if you don't feel thirsty.
Remember to talk with your health care provider before starting any new fitness or weight-loss plan.
- Gomez, Wanda, RN, Ph.D.
- MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician