Obesity in Elderly Adults: How Aging Affects Weight

Gaining weight as you age tends to be one of those things that everyone just assumes is inevitable. Luckily this is not the case, and understanding a bit about how your weight changes as you age can help you maintain a healthy weight.

Your body begins to lose muscle mass as early as your 30s! That muscle mass is replaced with fat. Muscles use more calories than fat so as you lose muscle mass, your metabolism slows. Fat (unfortunately) needs very few calories to exist, so as your metabolism slows, you also need to lower your caloric intake to keep everything in balance. Not maintaining this balance can lead to weight gain and potentially obesity.

Obesity in Elderly

Studies indicate approximately 30% of adults aged 65 or older in the United States suffer from obesity. When your Body Mass Index (BMI) is over 30, you are considered obese. Obesity in seniors is particularly concerning as it decreases the quality of life. Older adults with obesity also have a higher risk of developing serious health conditions, including hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes, and stroke, as well as sleep apnea and other breathing difficulties.

Causes of Obesity in Elderly

Obesity tends to happen gradually – it doesn’t just appear overnight. This sounds a bit silly, but it is actually good news! Knowing the causes and risk factors for obesity can help you prevent it. Some causes include:

  • As mentioned above, your muscle mass naturally decreases with age (approximately 5% per decade after you turn 30) and is replaced with fat. Adjusting your calorie intake and considering some strength training exercises can keep this in check.

  • Natural hormone changes have an effect on weight – particularly for women going through menopause. Men also begin to produce less testosterone, the hormone responsible for regulating fat distribution and muscle mass (among many other things, of course).

  • Metabolism naturally slows down as we age, meaning we need to eat less or consume less calories.

  • As we age, we become more sedentary and potentially also more stressed. This could mean we are sitting down for long commutes or spending too much time sitting in one place at the office. You could also experience an increase in work-related stress, which can contribute to weight gain.

  • Major lifestyle changes can also impact weight gain. Perhaps you used to spend an hour per day at the gym, and now you spend that hour waiting in a pick-up line to get your children after school.

Essentially, many things can change both inside and outside our bodies as we age which can result in weight gain. Some questions you can ask yourself to keep your weight and wellness in mind without spending hours on a scale are:

  • Am I moving around enough or getting enough exercise? Get up off your desk chair, stretch and touch your toes every hour or two. Take a short walk to the restroom or around your office.

  • Am I eating too much? As we age, we need fewer calories and therefore less food.

  • Am I eating correctly? Make sure what you are eating is healthy. Avoid whites like white rice and white flour, cut back on sugars, and load your diet with fruits and vegetables.

  • Am I eating often enough? It sounds counter-intuitive, but it is better to eat many small meals or snacks rather than two or three huge meals each day. Eating every two to three hours keeps your metabolism running. Skipping meals or going too long between meals causes your metabolism to slow or stop, which leads to weight gain.

Hopefully, the tips included in this article can help you and your loved ones stay on top of your health and wellness and be aware of what you need to do to avoid obesity. As always, if you have questions or concerns, bring them to your doctor, who can provide plenty of advice on age-appropriate diet, exercise, and overall health.


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