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Obesity and Aging: The Effects on Your Body

Obesity and Aging: The Effects on Your Body

Obesity is a condition that can affect people in any age group, but it’s a little different when it comes to obesity and aging. The way it’s measured is a little different due to the changes that occur as we get older.

The concerning thing is that as the proportion of the population aged 65 and older increases, the prevalence of the number of people dealing with obesity increases, too. That’s creating a lot of concern about providing adequate care and the increase in healthcare costs associated with that.

To help fight this epidemic, it’s important to be able to identify when you are dealing with obesity, the risks associated with the issue, and how to correct it.

Diagnosing Obesity

The most commonly used way to determine obesity is by measuring a person’s body mass index, or BMI.

To measure your BMI, take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 703. Then, divide that number by your height in inches squared. Or you can use this handy BMI calculator to make things easy. A BMI of 30 or above is considered obese for adults. Those at 25 – 29.9 are classified as overweight.

While BMI is a good starting point to determine if someone is obese, there are instances where it doesn’t tell the whole story.

As we get older, we tend to lose muscle mass, which turns into fat. That’s especially true if you’re dealing with an illness or not physically active. In these cases, your BMI might not change, but you could actually be dealing with obesity.

Another common issue for obesity and aging is we tend to get shorter as we get older. That’s a result of osteoporosis and spinal issues. In this scenario, a person could weigh the same but be shorter than they were before. Since BMI is calculated based on height and weight, your BMI number could say you’re in the obese or overweight category when you’re actually not.

These issues create a kind of balancing act for doctors. It’s up to your physician to decide if your BMI calculation is accurate for your body type. If so, you’ll be able to work out a treatment plan to get your weight back into a safe range.

Effects of Obesity

Obesity is linked to many illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and high cholesterol.

Furthermore, disability rates are higher among adults who are obese. Disability is defined as someone who has trouble doing usual daily tasks like eating, bathing, and getting dressed. Older adults in this category are also at a higher risk of experiencing symptoms like fatigue and wheezing. These disabilities lead to a less active lifestyle, which can make the issue worse.

Having a lower quality of life due to the inability to accomplish daily tasks or be active in any real capacity causes more problems. You’re also more likely to have symptoms of depression if you’re in this bracket.

Obesity impacts cognitive ability, too. You may end up having difficulty processing information, making decisions, or solving problems. Your memory could be impacted, as well, which just adds another layer to cognitive decline that’s already associated with age.

General practitioner measures older woman’s height to help calculate her BMI.

The Obesity Paradox

While obesity can cause so many issues, there’s a sort of exception for obesity and aging. It’s called the obesity paradox.

Studies show that a higher BMI can be good for some older adults. Those patients sometimes will live longer when they are carrying a little extra weight. The studies point to positive effects like an increased energy reserve, prevention of malnutrition, protection from bone density loss, and a delay in cognitive decline.

Those studies do point to some possible biases, though.

The theory is the survival effect could be playing a role here. Essentially, the survival effect claims that people who were at a higher risk of the complications of obesity passed away at a younger age, and those who are more resistant to those complications live longer anyway.

Another possible explanation is many people who die from underlying diseases experience weight loss because of their illness. Before their BMI is measured, the patient falls out of the obese category.

Treatment Options

Your best bet for getting your weight under control is going to be good old diet and exercise. These lifestyle changes are going to be the most effective, long-lasting ways to get healthy.

Eating a well-balanced diet that includes all of the nutrients your body needs is crucial to weight control. You need plenty of vegetables and fruits. Cut out any processed foods, and control your portion sizes. Weight loss is all about calories you consume versus calories you burn. It’s simple math.

When it comes to burning calories, that means getting more physical activity. There are plenty of ways to get yourself moving. Focus first on getting your heart pumping with aerobic exercise, which can be as easy as taking more walks. You can also do resistance and balance training to help build some more muscle and improve your ability to go about daily tasks. Those core exercises can help minimize your risk of falls.

Living the Healthy Life

The CDC says obesity is prevalent in 42.8 percent of people age 60 and above. While having a few extra pounds might not be a bad thing, you always need to take into account your personal situation. Everyone is different. That’s why it’s important to consult your primary care doctor and have a thorough evaluation of your situation.

Once you talk things through with your doctor, you’ll have a better idea of what your health status is when it comes to your weight and a course of action to get or keep it under control. Doing so will help get the quality of life you want and truly get out and live during your golden years.