It’s a topic you can’t escape. One that has seemed to continue to follow or haunt you since your childhood. Weight is always one of the first things checked when visiting your doctor. But for good reason. And don’t worry, it’s not to shame you. Instead, it’s to ensure you’re maintaining a healthy weight as you age and spot any signs or symptoms pointing to a possible health condition.
When you were young, you could get away with more when it came to your weight. You could brush off a few extra pounds without it amounting to much harm or cause for alarm. And if you happened to be a beanstalk back in the day, no one thought much about it. If anything, they said you’d appreciate being so skinny when you’re older. But as an adult, it’s become a little more difficult to overlook the topic of weight.
Weight – whether overweight or underweight – directly impacts your overall health and well-being. Furthermore, maintaining a healthy weight in seniors is vital to living a long and healthy life. Being overweight or underweight can become a risk factor for several health conditions. And understanding these risks associated with weight gain or weight loss is the first step in maintaining a healthy weight in seniors.
Causes for Weight Gain and Weight Loss
The U.S. adult obesity rate topped over 40 percent in 2020, with almost 29 percent of those aged 65 and older. Weight gain can be easily had with age. But why? It seemed like you could eat anything you wanted and not worry about gaining a pound when you were young. Now, it’s an entirely different story.
It’s almost as if when people retire, they gain the “Retirement 15” similar to the “Freshman 15”. But when you stop and think about it, for some, retirement can sort of resemble our freshman year of college. More snacking, less activity… So, it makes sense we would put on some extra pounds during that time. But this isn’t always the reason, as VIPcare primary care provider Dr. Sylvia Boloczko explained.
“Obesity is a multifactorial disease, there is no single cause,” Dr. Boloczko said. “Factors can include diet, physical activity, and behaviors that are commonly thought to cause obesity but also include a variety of other factors, such as genetic factors, medications that can promote weight gain, mental health disorders and sleep disorders, impaired metabolic and hormonal pathways with disordered signaling for satiety (feeling full) and hunger.”
Although obesity and being overweight are usually the primary concerns about weight, being substantially underweight can also be a significant health challenge. Just as it can be difficult for many to lose weight, it can be just as difficult for others to gain weight. And like being overweight, being underweight can also be a multifactorial problem.
“Poor nutrition, certain medical conditions, cancers, acute illnesses, hospitalizations, and medications can play a role in weight loss, difficulty in gaining weight, and being underweight,” Dr. Boloczko said.
But regardless of the direct cause of your weight gain or weight loss, you need to be mindful of what it could possibly mean. Of course, there are health risks and challenges for all ages when it comes to your weight, but in older adults, it can be even more of a concern.
Leading Risk Factors Dependent on Weight
There are many reasons why maintaining a healthy weight in seniors is important. Still, one of the biggest reasons is the many risk factors that accompany being over or even underweight.
Extra pounds don’t just increase the number on the scale. They also severely affect your overall health. Being overweight and obese puts a lot of stress on your body. It causes your heart and other vital organs to have to work harder. Excessive weight makes it more difficult for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. This alone increases your risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
In addition to heart disease, your weight and waist size can influence your chances of developing other diseases or conditions, including:
- Sleep apnea
There’s no way around it, carrying extra weight doesn’t help your body or health and could just cost you your life. “Obesity is a risk for all causes of death,” Dr. Boloczko said.
And sadly, it’s not just diseases or illnesses you have to worry about. “People with obesity can face weight bias and stigma, decreased physical activity as a result of joint issues and back pain, depression and other mental health conditions,” said Dr. Boloczko.
Again, being obese or round in the waist is usually where the concern is directed when it comes to weight, but you definitely can’t turn a blind eye if you’re on the other end of the scale. “Being underweight can be a risk for certain conditions such as osteoporosis, anemia, vitamin deficiencies, and malnutrition,” said Dr. Boloczko.
Being severely underweight can also take a toll on your heart and leave you susceptible to heart disease and failure. In addition, not having the proper nutrition can also compromise your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to contagious and dangerous pathogens that wreak havoc on your body.
Maintain a Healthy Weight for Optimum Health
Maintaining a healthy weight in seniors is important for more than just appearances. It helps to lower your risk for life-threatening conditions. The sooner you control your weight, the easier it will be and the quicker you will see true health-related results.
It doesn’t take much to notice improvement. For example, if you’re overweight and lose five pounds, that can lower your blood pressure by 5 mmHg. And even more, it can significantly help to raise your HDL cholesterol (that’s the good one) and reduce your triglycerides.
“Because obesity is affected by multiple factors, there is no one approach to weight loss that will work for everyone,” Dr. Bloczko said. “Best is an individual approach and can include dietary modifications, which may include caloric restriction, low carb or keto, meal replacements, and intermittent fasting, depending on the individual.”
Dr. Boloczko also added that sometimes weight loss medication and surgery might be appropriate.
Healthy weight loss or gain requires eating a balanced diet and staying physically active. You should keep track of what you eat and work to build muscle strength. Make small changes at first. Breaking old habits is hard to do. If you’re not used to working out, start by taking a 10-minute walk around the block. If you’re struggling to meet your daily caloric intake, which is preventing you from gaining weight, add some protein shakes and supplements to your diet throughout the day to up your calories.
Again, it doesn’t take much to make huge health gains. If you’re struggling to maintain a healthy weight, contact your doctor. Together, you can get to the root cause and establish a treatment plan that will get you on track to a healthy weight.
Dr. Sylvia Boloczko is a board-certified physician for VIPcare specializing in family medicine. She has an obesity medical certification and loves to incorporate educating patients on living a healthy lifestyle and preventing chronic diseases. Dr. Boloczko is temporarily seeing patients in Tavares until VIPcare’s new clinic in Mount Dora is ready. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Boloczko today.