The Connection Between Weight Loss and Age
It’s important to maintain a healthy weight as you age. Excess weight combined with the strain of aging can make you more susceptible to illness and shorten your life. For middle age and older individuals, poor lifestyle habits and changes in metabolism can make weight loss difficult.
Why Does Weight Loss Get Harder with Age?
In your teens, 20s, and 30s, you may have noticed that excess weight came off easily. For example, you may have only needed minor changes to your eating habits and activity levels to lose weight. Losing weight requires more effort as you reach middle age due to the following factors.
Your muscle tissue naturally shrinks and loses mass as you age. The exact reason for this is unknown. It seems that wear and tear on the muscles, combined with hormonal changes, may make the body less efficient at replenishing damaged muscle cells. When your muscle cells diminish, unburned calories are more likely to become fat.
Weight loss can also be more difficult for the following reasons:
- Your muscles, ligaments, and tendons may become rigid with age and may lose tone, even with regular exercise.
- You may have limited strength and endurance for exercise.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the hormonal changes of menopause don’t necessarily trigger weight gain in women. They can, however, change where fat is stored. As a result, excess weight accumulates in the abdomen, rather than the hips and thighs. Combined with the emotional effects of hormonal changes, this can lead to poor dietary and activity choices.
Also, hormonal changes in aging men and women may contribute to muscle loss. This muscle loss can decrease movement and slow metabolism.
As you age, you may not be able to do activities you once enjoyed. For example, you may need to trade running for walking, weight lifting for yoga, and hiking for swimming. Although low-impact activities are still effective, you may need to do them more often, or for longer periods, to achieve the same results. This can be hard if you’re used to a set amount of time for exercise.
Sometimes, older individuals may have health limitations that reduce or eliminate their ability to be active. Others may assume they’re too old for exercise, and avoid activity all together.
You may experience many lifestyle changes, both good and bad, as you age. Retirement may dramatically reduce the amount of physical activity you get on a daily basis. After working throughout life, you may see this period as an extended vacation. Relaxation like this can lead to over-indulgence in unhealthy foods without the benefit of daily exercise.
You may also face challenges as a growing number of friends fall ill or die as they age. This can lead to emotional eating and less focus on staying active.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight as You Age
It’s important to stay fit if you’re overweight or gaining weight as you approach middle age. As your body fat or waist circumference increases, you may be at risk for the following serious conditions:
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- colon cancer
- breast cancer
- poor mobility due to strain on your joints and muscles
Many of these conditions are a threat if you’re overweight, no matter your age. If you don’t have any of these conditions by middle age, your risk may increase if you remain overweight. This is because your organs and muscles age, and excess weight strains your body. If you have any of these conditions at middle age, they may become harder to manage if you don’t lose the weight.
Risk Factors for Weight Problems
You’re more likely to struggle with losing weight as you age if your parents were overweight later in life. Your weight problems may re-emerge, persist, or get worse with age if you have a history of being overweight or obese.
Losing Weight at an Older Age
Annual physical exams are important. Your doctor will monitor your weight and screen for problems that may be more easily treated if they’re identified early.
Your doctor may make suggestions to help you lose weight. These could include:
- following a specific diet or weight loss program
- following an exercise program or joining a gym
- identifying which physical activities are safe for your age and health profile
- assigning a target weight that is realistic for your body type
In some cases, your doctor may refer you to specialists in areas such as dietetics, physical therapy, cardiovascular health, and chiropractic care. These health professionals may offer more help with customizing a healthy diet and lifestyle for you. They may also recommend exercises to help you get active.
Weight Loss Surgery
If you are morbidly obese, your doctor may suggest weight loss surgery. Morbid obesity means you weigh 100 pounds over your ideal weight or you have a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or more.
Weight loss surgery reduces the size of your stomach, usually with a band or sutures. Your doctor will decide if you’re a good candidate for surgery based on:
- your current weight
- your weight loss history
- your age
- your health and any additional disorders
If you have weight loss surgery, you may receive nutritional counseling to help maintain a healthy weight long-term. As with any surgery, there are risks of complications. Most doctors don’t recommend weight lost surgery unless diet and exercise have failed and you’re at risk for obesity-related health problems.
Are there foods that can help to promote muscle strength and vitality?
New studies suggest that eating the right amount of protein helps maintain muscle strength and vitality. To meet your protein needs, choose lean quality protein such as fish, poultry, dairy, legumes, and quinoa. Spread your protein intake throughout the day, instead of eating it all at once. It’s also helpful to combine healthy eating with exercise.Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDEAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.