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Losing weight when older is tough but beneficial

Even though the way to lose weight (at any age) — eat less, move more — is a no-brainer, the older we get, the harder it is because our metabolism slows, hormone levels drop, we aren't as active and we continue with our lifelong eating habits.

Throughout our more active middle age, society (and even the federal government) has endorsed daily calorie goals — 1,800 for women, 2,200 for men. At age 51, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture ( those calorie limits should drop — especially for people who exercise less than 30 minutes a day — to 1,600 calories for women and 2,000 for men.

The percentage of seniors who are overweight "very closely mirrors the general population," according to Dr. Michelle Estevez, assistant professor of medicine at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. About one-third to one-half of Americans are overweight, she said, and about one-third of those are obese. "As we age, there are increases of obesity."

Get moving, ever so slowly

Too much weight or, worse, obesity can lead to all kinds of health problems, from arthritis to dementia.

But we can counteract those changes that make losing weight harder as we age.


Older Americans tend to be less active and more sedentary, with exercise and physical fitness a lesser part of daily life.

As a person get older, the metabolism slows down. "To maintain our weight, as we get older, we need to eat less," Estevez said. "And after 50, women go through menopause and men go through 'andropause,' " she explained.

But there are many steps a person can take to balance out the effects of aging and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

"I recommend people start out (exercising) slowly," said Dr. Angela McClanahan, assistant professor of medicine at USF in the department of cardiovascular medicine. "Even if it's five to 10 minutes a day, up to five days a week, to build up cardiovascular endurance, it's important not to get discouraged."

Arthritis is one of the worst age-related challenges, McClanahan said. "If you're 40 pounds overweight, it's like carrying a 40-pound child with you on your knees."

Excess weight can also lead to higher blood pressure and diabetes, which in turn lead to a higher risk of stroke and heart attack, McClanahan said. Obese people have a higher risk of colorectal and breast cancers.

There are no easy answers for older people who want to lose weight and increase their healthy lifestyles. Both physicians agree that studies, so far, are inconclusive on whether skinny people have a longer life-span.

Healthier, smaller meals

Overeating is a habit, Estevez noted.

"It's not hereditary. You don't get it from your genes," she said. "You get it from how your parents taught you to eat."

Changing that habit, like exercise, takes effort, she said. "The hardest thing is to just to get started — that first time for the long walk or the first time going to the store and buying healthier stuff and actually eating it."

Healthier foods include an emphasis on vegetables, fruits and whole grains "and minimizing red meats," Estevez said, "and reducing carbohydrates from white bread, white flour, white sugar, white pasta."

Eating several small meals during the day is another key to reducing weight, according to McClanahan. Have fruit or vegetables with each meal. And don't eat late at night before going to bed; the body has no time to burn off those calories.

"For most of us working stiffs, three meals a day is what we get," Estevez said. "For people not working, having four or five or six small meals throughout the day is probably better."

Also, McClanahan said, drinking more water every day can reduce appetite and stabilize metabolism. "It's extremely important" that people drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. "Most people in Florida don't maintain that much water intake. It can retard your appetite."

Both doctors agree that alcohol can be counterproductive to losing weight, so moderation is the key here, too.

For some people who are extremely overweight, bariatric surgery may be an option. Such surgery is currently recommended for people with a body mass index over 40, Estevez said. "It's an extreme option," McClanahan echoed. "I have found that it's not a cure-all," she added.

The benefits of weight control and especially exercise can be found throughout a person's life. In fact, for seniors, "physical activity delays the onset of dementia, heart disease (and) diabetes," Estevez said.

"I recommend it to everybody," she said. "Physical activity can reduce how many medicines you have to take. It's never too late."

Fred W. Wright Jr. is a freelance reporter living in Seminole.

AARP tips

Ten ways to lose weight and increase fitness, compiled from AARP members.

1 Take control. You — not your food and not your old habits — are in charge of your eating and fitness.

2 Discover the athlete within. See yourself as an athlete already in training, not as an overweight person trying to start a fitness regimen.

3 Stay motivated. Don't let temporary interruptions — illness, vacations, work — keep you from a new, more active lifestyle.

4 Find other sources of comfort. If you eat for comfort, and many people do, look for things other than food to find comfort. Try reading or walking.

5 Manage your appetite. Find other activities to replace the urge to snack.

6 Take one day at a time. Take small steps to avoid thinking about the whole journey.

7 Change bad habits. Be more conscious of the food you are eating. Think vegetables and other non-processed foods as daily options.

8 Plan, plan, plan. A person who plans is a person more in charge of his or her life, whether it's around what to eat or how to exercise.

9 Get spiritual. If prayer is part of your spiritual journey, consider it motivation. Praying out loud and eating at the same time is difficult.

10 Make exercise intergenerational. Involve children or grandchildren in your fitness plan.


You're not obese? Don't be so sure

One measure of whether a person's weight is affecting his or her health is Body Mass Index, a scale developed by the Centers for Disease Control. Find a BMI calculator at and see which

of the following categories you fit in:

Below 18.5 – Underweight

18.5 to 24.9 – Normal

25 to 29.9 – Overweight

30 and above – Obese

Latest diet trend

Seems the New York Times bestseller published a year ago, The Fast Diet: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer With the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting, is gaining steam.

Move over, eat-every-two-hours diets. This year's hottest way to drop the pounds involves going full days eating little or nothing.

Fast Diet author and London physician Michael Mosley's eating plan, well, actually, not-eating plan calls for limiting daily caloric intake to 500 calories for women, 600 for men two non-consecutive days of the week while eating regularly (which does not mean three Big Macs and fries for dinner) the other five days.

Diane Rehm, who recently had Mosley as a guest on her National Public Radio show, confessed to him that she had lost 20 pounds following his diet, which he claims will also help adherents preserve memory function and live longer by reducing the risk of diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer.

"In our animal studies, we found in models of Alzheimer's disease where the animals accumulate a lot of amyloid in their brain and they develop cognitive deficits that if we put them on an intermittent fasting diet, it will delay the onset of dementia in the mice," said Dr. Mark Mattson of the National Institute on Aging.


Portion control

So you don't eat between meals and still have a weight problem? That probably means the portions you are eating are too large.

Some popular diet plans, like the one touted by Marie Osmond on TV commercials, take away the chore of weighing and measuring. You are sent your meals, already measured out and packaged. You eat what they send you to eat.

In 2011, Sheila Kemper Dietrich of Boulder, Colo., had another idea. She designed dinnerware that maps out the portion sizes for you with pattern designs of different sized circles and swirls that show how much space on your plate should be taken up by carbs, fats and vegetables. She also has etched wine glasses that elegantly show how much of the glass standard pours fill.

It's an ingenious invention forcing a balanced diet for not only overeating baby boomers, Dietrich said, but for the undereating silent generation, those who are 68 to 85, on fixed incomes and have decreased appetites, trouble chewing food or medicine that interferes with their enjoyment of food. She calls the line "Livliga," which is Swedish for lively or vivid. A four-piece place setting is available in two patterns for $49.95. Order or get more information at

Losing weight when older is tough but beneficial 01/15/14 [Last modified: Sunday, January 19, 2014 10:32am]
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