Weight gain used to be a top priority among the elderly population due to depressed appetite and increased frailty. However, as the number of overweight and obese people increases—particularly among the elderly—there’s also been a rise of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease..To reduce their risk, many of my clients are looking for ways to lose weight in a healthy fashion. Weight loss can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, can help manage blood sugar levels, and can relieve pressure on your knees and joints.
Overweight and obesity are common among the aging population for many reasons such as being previously overweight or being unable to engage in the same amount of physical activity. Because you are less active and your body is slowing down, your body requires fewer calories. Your weight status may also be a result of poor nutrition, hormonal imbalances, decreased metabolism, and a side effect of some of your medications.
Don’t be discouraged, though, if you find it difficult to lose weight. Weight loss should be gradual and steady. Healthy weight loss takes time and effort. Eating well has many health benefits and can improve your energy levels so that you will be able to partake in many of your favorite activities.
When working with older adults, there are several factors I consider. There are no healthy quick-fix solutions so be wary of any fad diet scams. Also, it is important to make sure you are meeting all of your nutrient requirements. You don’t want to miss out on essential vitamins or minerals such as calcium and vitamin D.
Here are three important things to know if you want to lose weight, the healthy way:
1. Muscle Loss
As you age, your muscles or lean body mass decreases. Weight loss can further increase the amount of muscle mass that is lost. Decreased muscle mass increases frailty and increases risk of falling since muscles play a role in movement and balance. Weight loss not only increases your risk of losing muscle mass, it increases your risk of falling and breaking bones. Protein is essential in preventing loss and rebuilding your muscle mass.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for you to get enough protein! You should be consuming approximately one gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight. So if you weigh about 70 kg, you should be consuming about 70 grams per day. Since the amount of protein necessary for each person can vary, it is recommended to speak to a registered dietitian to determine the appropriate amount that is right for you!
The impact that medication can have on weight loss is often highly overlooked. How often do you think about how diet changes can dramatically affect your health because of the medications you are taking? For example, if you have a history of high blood pressure, you may consider a dietary approach to help lower your blood pressure. Studies have shown that the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) can significantly reduce your blood pressure. Make sure that your medications are adjusted so that your blood pressure is not lowered too much.
People taking a blood thinner such as Coumadin, a medication essential in preventing blood clots, must know that vitamin K has the opposite effect. Therefore, vitamin K is usually avoided or intake is limited for those taking an anticoagulant drug such as Coumadin. Many weight loss diets encourage the consumption of a variety of vegetables, many of which are rich in vitamin K. Your dietary changes will need to be considered and your medications may need to be adjusted.
While diet plays a very important role in weight loss, fitness is also very important for the aging population. It plays a critical role in preventing muscle loss, decreasing frailty, and improving balance.
It is recommended to participate in 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity (intense enough that your breathing is heavier than normal but you can still carry on a conversation). Also, engage in appropriate resistance exercises that increase your strength at least three times per week. These can include using light weights, resistance bands, or by doing push-ups.
Engaging in these activities will improve your strength. In time, this will make everyday activities, such as getting up from a chair or carrying groceries, a lot easier. Always remember to speak to a professional to recommend appropriate exercises. Doing the wrong exercises can lead to injuries and set you back months or even years.
Good for you on taking steps to improve your health. Make sure that you consider all of the above factors and consider meeting with a dietitian to set up your goals and weight loss plan.
Getz, L., “Older Adults and Obesity — Is Dieting the Answer?” Today’s Dietitian 2013; 15(8):44