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New Study Challenges the Idea that It’s Harder to Lose Weight Later in Life

lose weight

How many times have you heard people say it’s hard to lose weight after age X (fill in the blank)? Losing weight at any age is challenging but most people believe that once they get past a certain age, usually middle age, it becomes harder to take-off weight. However, a new study calls this idea into question, suggesting that with a weight-loss-friendly lifestyle, even people over the age of 60 can lose weight.

What Research Shows about Age and Weight Loss

For the study, researchers at the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism Center looked at data on obese patients who had taken part in their weight loss services. They selected 242 patients and divided them into two groups, those under 60 years of age and those 60 and older. The oldest patient in the study was 78 years old.

Based on conventional wisdom, you might think the younger patients, those aged 60 and under would lose more weight when they took part in the program and the older group would lose less. But that’s not what the researchers found. Instead, they discovered both groups lost similar amounts of weight and there was no significant difference between the two groups when the subjects made similar lifestyle changes. Those who were under 60 lost 6.9% of their body weight while those 60 and over lost 7.3% of their total body weight, not a statistically significant difference.

One limitation of this study is all the participants were obese, some significantly so and that could have affected the results. It’s easier to lose weight when you’re greatly overweight while it can be more challenging when you’re trying to lose only 10 pounds to reach your ideal body weight. Still, the results are encouraging for people 60+ and overweight or obese. It’s not “impossible” to lose weight just because you’re older.

What lifestyle changes have the most benefits for weight loss and weight control? In the study, lifestyle changes consisted of physical activity, changes in diet, and mental health support, all of which are important for weight loss and weight loss maintenance. Studies show that dietary changes are more effective for weight loss, but you need physical activity to prevent weight regain after you lose it. Over 80% of people who lose a significant amount of weight gain it back within 2 years. With these statistics, it’s not surprising that so many get discouraged about the weight loss process!

Motivation, Mindset, and Removing Barriers

Mental health support is important for motivation, mindset, and removing barriers to sticking with a healthy lifestyle. Most of the participants in the study were morbidly obese, and emotional eating can be a problem for some obese people. Learning ways to manage stress and control emotions is helpful for people with this problem. Learning to eat more mindfully is part of the equation too. When you tune in to the sights, texture, and aroma of the food you eat, you’re satisfied with less and are less likely to crave ultra-processed junk food. Yoga may be beneficial both for managing stress and fostering mindfulness.

Since you lose muscle mass every decade after the age of 30, strength training is essential for maintaining metabolically active muscle tissue. Having more muscle subtly boosts your resting metabolic rate and improves insulin sensitivity, both of which are important for weight control. Switching to whole foods and limiting sugar, especially sugar-sweetened drinks, is another lifestyle change that helps with weight loss and weight control. Skip the junk food and convenience food and switch it for more nutrient-dense fare.

Don’t forget about protein and the amino acids it supplies! Some research suggests that men and women need more protein after the age of 60 because of a phenomenon called anabolic resistance. When muscle cells are anabolic resistant, it makes it harder to build and maintain muscle mass as muscles become more resistant to stimuli that tell them to build new muscle. Supplying more amino acids from protein may help cells overcome this anabolic block and better build and maintain muscle tissue. Some research also suggests that long-chain omega-3s from fatty fish and fish oil help reduce anabolic resistance, possibly due to their anti-inflammatory effects.

The Bottom Line

You can lose weight and get healthier at any age and it’s important to make the effort. In fact, getting to a healthy weight becomes even more important as the decades go by since obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, and 13 types of cancer and the risk of these health problems rises with age.  The researchers point out that age shouldn’t be a barrier to making lifestyle changes that help with weight loss. You have the power to change how you live, eat, and move and that makes it easier to achieve a healthy body weight.

The take-home message? Rather than letting your health and body weight “slide” as you get older, embrace the challenge of upgrading your health as you age. Doing so can enhance your lifespan and healthspan, the years you spend healthy and free of disability.

Many aspects of health are within your control and it starts with making healthy lifestyle choices. Studies show that up to 80% of health and aging is related to lifestyle choices rather than genetics. So, be aware of your lifestyle choices and how they will affect your future health. Making even small changes can have an impact on your health and body weight. Choose wisely!

 

References:

  • Eimear Leyden, Petra Hanson, Louise Halder, Lucy Rout, Ishbel Cherry, Emma Shuttlewood, Donna Poole, Mark Loveder, Jenny Abraham, Ioannis Kyrou, Harpal S. Randeva, FT Lam, Vinod Menon, Thomas M. Barber. Older age does not influence the success of weight loss through the implementation of lifestyle modification. Clinical Endocrinology, 2020; DOI: 10.1111/cen.14354.
  • Front Nutr. 2019; 6: 144.Published online 2019 Sep 6. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2019.00144.
  • J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2012 Sep; 3(3): 157–162. Published online 2012 May 16. doi: 10.1007/s13539-012-0068-4.
  • Clin Sci (Lond). 2011 Sep; 121(6): 267–278. doi: 10.1042/CS20100597.

 

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