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Live Wisely - November 24, 2019

The Skinny on Weight Management

by Amber McCracken

We are all familiar with the phrase “eat, drink and be merry!” We’ll likely hear it quite a bit over the next several weeks as we celebrate the holidays with family and friends. All that eating and drinking can pack on the pounds. On average, Americans gain 1.3 lbs during the holiday season. While that doesn’t sound like much, it can take up to five months to lose it!

One thing is for sure — obesity is on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since 2000, the rate of obese adults in the U.S. has increased by about 30%. Currently, 40% of American adults are considered obese, which affects more than 90 million people.

Obesity vs Overweight

It’s important to know the difference between obesity and being overweight. Obesity means you have too much body fat, while being overweight is really just the number on the scale. Obesity is defined by the CDC as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. People can be overweight without having a 30+ BMI.

Regardless, people are trying to lose weight in record numbers. Unfortunately, they are failing in record numbers too! A recent study in JAMA: Diabetes and Endocrinology found that the number of people trying to lose weight has increased from 34.3% in 1999 to 42.2% in 2016. The researchers also found an increase in weight gain over the same period. Conclusion? There are many frustrated people out there!

The main concern is obesity is a major health risk, increasing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and stoke. Combined with the increased risk associated with aging, weight management becomes a major issue for staying healthy as we age.

The Dangers of Weight Loss

At the other end of the weight spectrum is weight loss. Overall, doctors have been hesitant to prescribe aggressive weight loss medication or procedures for their older patients. Often, unintentional weight loss is typically the result of a serious underlying disease and causes adverse effects such as loss of bone density. Bone density loss, a normal part of the aging process, can lead to osteoporosis and fractures.

There is also concern that weight loss among older adults will result in the loss of lean muscle mass, or sarcopenia. The Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study revealed that weight loss in men (but not women) resulted in significantly greater lean muscle loss (5.8% of lean mass lost with weight loss). Combining accelerated muscle loss due to weight loss with the natural rate due to aging is serious. According the Harvard Men’s Health Watch:

“After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Most men will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes. Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, both of which may increase your risk of falls and fractures. A 2015 report from the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research found that people with sarcopenia had 2.3 times the risk of having a low-trauma fracture from a fall, such as a broken hip, collarbone, leg, arm, or wrist.”

Weight fluctuation may even have mental consequences too. A new study shows that significant fluctuation in weight, regardless of whether the scale goes up or down, can have serious consequences. In May of this year, new research out of Korea found that older people who experience significant weight gain or weight loss could be raising their risk of developing dementia. Rapid weight change — a 10% or higher increase or decrease in BMI — over a two-year period was associated with a higher risk of dementia compared with a person with a stable BMI.

Managing Your Weight

If you are considering the option of trying to shed some of those unwanted holiday pounds, there are things you should keep in mind. As we age, our metabolism slows, making it harder for our bodies to burn calories. However, traditional “dieting” where you restrict yourself from eating might actually cause your metabolism to slow even more. The best way to eat is to have small portions throughout the day, keeping your metabolism revved with healthy fruits and vegetables.

Nutrient intake is extremely important because the aging process can affect the body’s ability to acquire the macro and micronutrients it needs. For example, postmenopause estrogen reduction can affect calcium absorption, and poor skin and reduced sun exposure can affect vitamin D levels in older adults. Therefore, weight loss diets for older adults need to be structured to meet their nutritional requirements.

A study in the Annual of Nutrition and Metabolism found that a diet high in protein and low in calories can give older adults the health benefits of weight loss while keeping the muscle and bone they need for better quality of life as they age. The study was done on nearly 100 adults aged above 65. Participants lost about 18 pounds, most of it fat (87 percent), and preserved muscle mass whereas the control group lost about half a pound.

Everything in Moderation

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we discovered that silver bullet to maintaining our ideal weight? Some would say we already have. You hear it everywhere: Eat right and exercise or partake in everyday movement – based on your mobility. That remains true well into our golden years.

As always, it is important to speak with you doctor before starting any weight loss program.
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Amber McCracken is the executive director of Current Communications, a boutique consultancy that helps organizations with their marketing and public relations activities. Amber has worked with GHI since 2014, providing her expert advice to support Goodwin House at Home. She contributes regularly to The Good Life, both as a writer and editor. Amber lives in North Carolina with her husband and two children.

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