Weight Loss and the Effects of Aging

Proper weight loss is an individual journey that depends on your specific circumstances. While maintaining a healthy weight can lead to a more active lifestyle, it can be a complicated journey especially for seniors. As we age, our bodies process food, exercise, sleep and heal in new ways. Seniors who may have been leading healthy lives may find it difficult to maintain that lifestyle, or those habits may not be serving them anymore. A healthy weight and lifestyle will look different for each age range. Adjusting personal healthy habits is a normal part of the aging process but can be rife with challenges and misinformation. The process of a healthy lifestyle begins with determining their health goals and how ideal those goals are for their body. Due to aging, the composition of the body will change, therefore, your priorities will shift to suit your new needs. If you are finding your health goals are shifting, consulting with your primary care physician is important for your ongoing success. As well, if you are losing weight rapidly or unintentionally, consult your doctor as unplanned weight loss can be an early indicator of health conditions.

Weight Loss: a Priority or Misleading?

If you are someone who has gained weight or have noticed your clothes do not fit you anymore, you may assume that the best course of action is to lose weight. Losing weight is often demonstrated as a ‘catch-all cure’. In some cases, there is relevant evidence that connects being overweight and the risk of the following health problems.

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Osteoarthritis

However, losing weight is not the cure to all body-related issues, and it is important to be mindful of what an appropriate weight is and what is misinformation. Determining a senior’s ideal body weight goes beyond weight charts and begins with an honest conversation with your primary doctor. Health and weight are holistic features of your body and need to be treated with effective care in order to avoid needless metabolic or intestinal damage.

Using weight charts may seem effective, but some are not backed by science and not used for your best interest. The most common body weight chart is the ‘body mass index’ or BMI. The BMI is a weight-to-height ratio that was originally developed to measure national weight data for statistical analysis. It utilizes standard ranges to inform your weight to height ratio, however, it does not account for fat, muscle, or the health of your body system conditions, such as the cardiovascular system. Muscle is a huge part of having a healthy and active body, and according to the BMI, those with muscle would be more likely to be confirmed as ‘obese’ due to the muscle being denser and heavier than fat. This chart is not useful for individual health analysis and does not account for the specifics that would truly affect weight such as diet, activity level, sleep, mental health, family genetics, and socio-economic status. As well, as we age, we actually lose muscle mass. Losing weight is not an indicator of a healthy senior if that weight is muscle mass.

The correlation between weight and health is a topic of debate and scientific analysis. Despite the message of our culture regarding losing weight as always being a good thing, it is not a blanket cure. In fact, the “obesity paradox” is the result of seniors overweight actually having lower mortality rates than those who are underweight. This means that as we age, it is natural and normal to have a few extra pounds. This can be the result of hormones, menopause, activity level, changes in mobility, and disability. To improve your health and weight, your focus should be on healthy eating, muscle conditioning exercises, and building bone strength. As weight and health are highly individual, it is important to treat weight loss goals as personalized and doctor-informed.

Weight Loss Challenges and the Effects of Aging

Just as our body composition changes as we age; it also becomes more challenging to lose or gain healthy weight goals. The struggle to shed the last few pounds is not always a matter of discipline or effort, but a matter of age. It is biologically appropriate for adults over 60 to have a higher weight than they had before becoming seniors. Losing weight over 60 may be difficult due to the hormonal effects of aging, however, it is possible to work with your body to maintain a healthy weight that works for you. Previous healthy habits that have worked for decades may not succeed after 60, so you will have to adjust your weight-loss strategies to your changing body.

As a senior, your basal metabolic rate, which is the number of calories you burn just staying alive, is lower due to the lack of the muscle mass you add in your youth, and a lower active lifestyle. This means, that if you are used to consuming a certain amount of calories and perform the same level of activity, you would risk weight gain as you will not be able to effectively burn those calories. Therefore, you will need to relook at your meals and consider how much you should be eating, and whether you can increase your physical activity.

Aside from natural aging body composition affecting senior metabolism, there are also other factors that could affect weight. Medications can contribute to weight gain as the side effects are difficult to predict and manage. Your physician should be informed of any negative side effects in order to manage your dosage effectively. Gastrointestinal changes can also hinder healthy eating habits by creating an avoidance behavior between seniors and fresh fruits and vegetables. This could be due to the acidity of fruits and vegetables and can lead to upset stomachs and digestive issues. Medical issues including illness, hormone imbalance, and system conditions can all affect weight loss due to the interconnected nature of the body’s systems. Your doctor will be able to examine you to begin the process of healing your body’s systems.

Weight loss is almost a buzzword that is thrown around by those who are not experts in your personal health. Ensure that you are not taking drastic measures without your doctor’s knowledge as losing weight can be dangerous and damaging to your body if done too fast or improperly. You and your doctor know what is best for your health and what personal goals can help you achieve an ideal weight.


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