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Your Spring Diet 2021: More Challenging, But More Important, Than Ever

A year into the pandemic, are you struggling with the notorious “quarantine 15”? A lot of older adults report that they are carrying around some extra pounds these days. It’s not surprising, as many of us are stuck at home, unable to access many of our usual exercise activities, and perhaps turning to food for entertainment and comfort.

For many of us, these extra pounds are on top of the extra weight we were already wanting to shed! Experts say that although in previous generations, seniors most worried about being underweight, that’s far from the exclusive problem now. According to the National Council on Aging, today almost 10% of adults are considered obese—almost double the number from the turn of the 21st century.

There’s a myth that as we grow older, it’s harder and harder to lose weight. But in fact, a recent study from the University of Warwick in the U.K. found that obese patients over the age of 60 were just as able to lose weight through lifestyle changes as younger people. “Weight loss is important at any age, but as we get older we’re more likely to develop the weight-related co-morbidities of obesity,” said lead study author Dr. Thomas Barber.

These conditions include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, arthritis, depression, several types of cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease. “Many of these are similar to the effects of aging, so you could argue that the relevance of weight loss becomes heightened as we get older, and this is something that we should embrace,” said Dr. Barber.

Here are some other reasons to lose weight you might not have considered:

You’ll lower your risk for serious COVID-19 illness. Today, even as staying at our recommended weight is harder, shedding pounds takes on an even more pressing urgency. Numerous studies show that obesity raises the risk of serious illness and death among patients who contract the virus that causes COVID-19.

You’ll save wear and tear on your knees. Shedding those pounds can slow the degeneration of cartilage in the knee and even delay the need for knee replacement surgery.

You’ll save money … for the healthcare system, and for yourself. Obesity-related expenses cost our healthcare system almost $150 billion each year. And individuals who are obese spend on average $200,000 in extra healthcare costs during their lifetime.

You’ll be more independent. Older adults who are overweight are more likely to suffer mobility problems and have trouble with personal care, keeping up their home, shopping, and being active in the community.

People caring for you will benefit, as well. If family members or professional caregivers help you get around, get out of a chair or bathe, obesity makes it more likely that you’ll be injured during the process—and your helper might suffer back strain and other injuries. This is also true of nurses and other professionals, even though they are trained to perform those actions as safely as possible.

Vaccines don’t work as well in obese adults. Research shows that being overweight lowers the effectiveness of some immunizations, including the seasonal flu shot, and vaccines for tetanus and hepatitis. Experts are still trying to determine whether this will be an issue with the new COVID-19 vaccines, but they assure us that getting the vaccine considerably lowers the risk of serious illness for everyone.

Older adults can lose weight

If we know maintaining a healthy weight is important for older adults, why isn’t there more emphasis on it? “There are a number of reasons why people may discount weight loss in older people,” Dr. Barber explains. “These include an ageist perspective that weight loss is not relevant to older people and misconceptions of the reduced ability of older people to lose weight through dietary modification and increased exercise.”

Doctors say these are part of a sensible weight-loss plan for older adults:

Eat a healthy diet. A person can be overweight, yet undernourished. A diet of refined carbohydrates added sugar and unhealthy fats can keep us steadily gaining weight while still lacking in the nutrients that are important for healthy aging. Choose plenty of veggies, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat proteins.

Practice portion control. Learn how much of food really constitutes “one serving.” Use smaller plates, and begin with about half as much food as you think you want—you can always get seconds. Resign from the “clean plate club” by stopping eating when you feel full. Save the leftovers of your meal for a snack, or even another meal.

Get plenty of exercise. Staying active burns calories, which helps shed those unwanted pounds. Another benefit is that you’ll build muscle, and muscle tissue burns more calories—even when you’re at rest—than does fat. Ask your doctor about safe ways to exercise these days.

Think about what you’re drinking. Beverage calories count, too! Instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, drink water, tea, coffee, or unsweetened fruit juice. And remember, alcoholic beverages have a lot of empty calories.

Manage stress. Stress slows down our metabolism and promotes weight gain, especially unhealthy belly fat.

Get enough sleep. Moving around more during the day helps us burn calories—but don’t do it at the expense of sleep.  Poor-quality, inadequate sleep increases hormones that make us gain weight.

If you’re having trouble losing those pounds, talk to your health care provider about a reasonable weight-loss goal and an individualized plan. Weight-loss programs can be effective, and these days they are being conducted with social distancing in mind. Maintaining a healthy weight can be an important way to promote good health during the pandemic.



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