Five Weight Loss Tips For Older Adults

Five Weight Loss Tips For Older Adults

You’re not alone if you’ve found it hard to lose weight. Improving your body is never simple. If you’re over 50, it can be all the harder due to changes in hormones, an increasing desire to camp out on the couch, and the fact that much of the weight loss advice for older people is incorrect.

Much of the fitness and nutrition advice is based on misinformation and doesn’t factor in the individual exercise and nutrition needs for healthy aging. This article will provide guidance for older people interested in weight loss.

Body Weight Vs Body Fat

When we talk about losing weight, what we really mean is losing fat. This is especially important for people over 50 who need to maintain as much bone and muscle as possible from here on out. Muscle and bone are hard to build and they are key predictors of longevity and quality of life.

One review found that the loss of fat free mass (muscle, bone, and connective tissue) is a greater predictor of future health risks than being overweight.

Why are bone and muscle so important?

Strong bones are necessary to avoid fracture from a fall. Muscle and bone serve as a reservoir for nutrients (muscle for amino acids and bone for calcium and phosphate), which the body can draw on during a diseased state. Both also contribute to metabolic rate—the more you have the more calories you burn daily. Finally, Muscle is also associated with strength and mobility, making low muscle mass a strong predictor of fall risk.

Therefore, the advice in this article is aimed at losing body fat, while sustaining muscle and bone. This makes the scale an ineffective tool for assessing progress: For example, body recomposition, in which people improve lean muscle mass and lose body fat but see little change in scale weight is a common outcome of exercise/diet interventions.

The easiest and most effective alternative is to measure circumferences: Get a tape measure and record the distance around your waist (at the belly button) and hips. Every 1 to 2 weeks, re-measure your hips and waist to assess progress. Just so you know, cutoff points for obesity are 35.5 inches for women and 40 inches for men. Your goal is to get (and stay) below these values.

How Do We Lose Body Fat?

With all the misinformation and quick fixes out there, it’s important to start with the basics: To lose body fat, it’s necessary to create an energy deficit. This means that you need to eat fewer calories than you burn over a sustained period. The number of calories you burn is a combination of the following:

Resting Energy Expenditure (REE) is the calories your body burns at rest if you lie in bed all day.

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) is the calories your body burns digesting meals.

Activity Energy Expenditure (AEE) is the calories you burn during exercise.

Non-Activity Energy Expenditure (NEAT) is the calories burned “spontaneously” moving around during the day, not including during exercise.

Studies show that for the average person who is aging, all of these values drop:

REE decreases due to hormonal changes and a loss of muscle mass. RMR decreases by 2-3% every decade after age 20, with a loss of as much as 40% of muscle by age 70.

Physical activity (both planned (AEE) and spontaneous (NEAT)) accounts for half of the drop in calories burned with aging.

TEF decreases by as much as 20% due to changes in digestion and food intake.

An effective program will target all of these aspects to enable you to create an energy deficit that results in a decrease in body fat. What follows are key steps for making this happen.

Tip #1: Perform Strength Training

Conventional advice will tell you to start with aerobic exercise for fat reduction, and while aerobic exercise can be helpful, your number one priority is a strength training program because it will preserve muscle and bone, and improve release of hormones and enzymes that enhance metabolism. Not only will strength training restore insulin sensitivity (reducing diabetes risk) but it leads the body to burn more fat. Additionally, while aerobic forms of exercise often lead people to be less active in daily life (lowering NEAT), strength training is energizing for older adults and leads to a significant increase in spontaneous calories burned, according to a series of studies.

Tip #2: Eat A Higher Protein, Lower Carb Diet

A recent review found that one of the most effective ways to stay young and avoid the creeping fat gain that comes with aging is to get enough protein. Scientists who study the effect of nutrition on aging recommend that older adults who are engaged in strength training to lose body fat should consume 1.6 to 1.8 g/kg of protein a day from high-quality sources. This equals 110-122 grams for a 150-pound person. For healthy older adults who aren’t engaged in strength training, a minimum intake of protein is at least 1.2 g/kg/day.

High-quality protein is defined as foods containing at least 10 essential amino acids per serving and include sources such as animal protein, fish, dairy, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, and whey protein.

When it comes to carbohydrates, there is no need to eliminate them, however, it’s going to be easier to create a calorie deficit if you stay away from refined carbs (bread, crackers, pasta, sweets) in favor of whole foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains. Eliminating liquid carbs (soda, juice, sweetened tea or coffee, Gatorade) is a must because these pack on the calories without affecting hunger.

Tip #3: Eat Plenty of Nutrient-Rich Vegetables & Fruit

One of the things that obesity and aging have in common is inflammation—that silent killer that damages cells, harms your metabolism, and increases disease risk. Phytonutrient-rich plant foods are the percent solution because they contain antioxidants that eradicate inflammation as well as hunger-lowering fiber. They tend to be low in calories, while also containing key nutrients involved in metabolism like potassium and magnesium.

Every meal should contain nutrient-rich vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, or squash. Lower carb veggies are a godsend for anyone trying to lose body fat because they are “free for all food” and you can eat them as much as you want, which is helpful for reducing hunger and filling your stomach. Berries, kiwi, pomegranates, avocado, coconut oil, coffee, and dark chocolate are additional antioxidant-rich foods to include in reasonable portions.

Tip #4: Address Hormonal Issues

Aging leads to a natural reduction in hormones, reducing metabolic rate and negatively impacting the ability to burn fat. Although improving hormone levels is complicated and may require you to work with an experienced doctor, there are a few things everyone can do:

Lowering stress by adopting these habits can balance the stress hormone cortisol, which when elevated, leads to fat gain in the abdominal area.

Another hormone to target is insulin. Insulin is a storage hormone and if you are in calorie excess, insulin will store those calories as body fat. Two effective strategy for restoring insulin sensitivity are strength training and lower carb diets.

Meditation and mind-body practices like yoga can improve levels of growth hormone (a key anti-aging hormone), testosterone, and DHEA.

Tip #5: Supplement With Key Nutrients

Risk of nutrient deficiencies increase with aging due to an array of factors making a healthy diet and targeted supplementation essential. A few nutrients to watch out for are as follows:

Vitamin D—dosing recommendations vary but a review of weight loss guidelines for older individuals recommends 1,000 IUs a day.

Magnesium—scientists recommend intake should be from high-quality chelated sources (magnesium glycinate is good option) in the range of 500 mg a day.

Calcium should be individualized depending on dietary intake, gender, and age.

Probiotics (those good bacteria that line the GI tract) may reduce inflammation and impact calorie absorption.

Zinc is necessary for production of testosterone and thyroid hormones as well as playing a role in immunity, bone metabolism, and the body’s antioxidant system. Supplementation should not exceed 40 mg a day because zinc can be toxic.


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