More than two thirds of Americans are considered overweight or obese. That’s an astonishing figure, and the numbers don’t change for people over 65. What’s slightly different is the approach that doctors take towards seniors when it comes to weight loss and what’s considered a healthy weight. The fact is that it’s important for older people to maintain a higher level of body fat for a number of reasons. Because their metabolism has slowed, it’s harder for seniors to maintain a healthy body temperature; having a layer of fat helps. It’s also beneficial when working against the weight loss that can result from chronic illness, cancer, and other diseases that hit the elderly population. And fat helps us metabolize important nutrients like Vitamins A, D, and E, all vital to senior health.
All of that said, it’s still critical for seniors to maintain a weight that doesn’t put undue stress on joints and vital organs, and that doesn’t create a higher risk of serious health threats like hypertension, diabetes, and respiratory issues. And slower metabolisms mean that, more often than not, we’re battling to keep those pounds from creeping up (and not the other way around). Staying in close collaboration with a physician is the best way to make sure you – or Mom or Dad – are striking that critical balance of healthy fat versus danger zone. There’s also a lot you can do on your own – here are some great strategies for shedding pounds safely after 65:
Don’t focus on the scale. Sometimes healthy fat levels mean numbers you’re not used to – so think less about the numbers and more about daily diet and exercise, and eating only when you’re hungry. Your physician can better evaluate how your numbers look in the context of other health factors.
Pack on the protein. Lean proteins are a critical part of senior diets for several reasons. Seniors start losing muscle mass at a rapid pace after age 50; any weight loss will continue that trend. Supplementing your diet with lean proteins found in foods like chicken, yogurt, and egg whites will help work against this loss and actually build muscle tissue. High protein foods also take longer to metabolize and keep you sated for longer periods, making you less likely to reach for empty calorie snacks.
Think portion control. As we age, we need about 100 daily calories less per decade to keep our metabolism going – and yet most of us tend to eat the way we did in our 30s and 40s. Portion control is especially difficult when we’re eating out or on vacation; next time, order one scoop of ice cream instead of two, and swap out the french fries for a side salad. At home, start measuring out your meal portions until you have a sense of what, say, a half a cup of cereal looks like – you might be shocked at how much you’ve been adding to your daily intake without even knowing it.
Start strength training. Aerobic exercise is critical for seniors, with the CDC recommending 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio activity each week. But strength training is also important to combat muscle mass erosion, joint health, and slowing metabolism. Consult with a trainer before starting on any weight lifting on your own, with the goal of steadily increasing the amount you lift as your body adjusts. You should be barely able to reach the end of your reps before needing to rest; a routine that’s too easy won’t reap the benefits. Alternatively, many senior centers offer weight and resistance training designed for people 65 and older.
Set realistic expectations. Weight loss over 65 is less about shedding pounds and more about incremental change. Don’t compare your routine with the workouts and diet you got away with in your 30s – instead, set realistic goals that will get real results over several months.
For more helpful info and ideas, head to Prevention.com!