Speed Up Weight Loss After 60 to Live Past 80

Tracy Woolrich's picture
Losing weight

Obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight should be a priority for everyone. Obesity increases the risk of a number of health conditions including hypertension, type 2 diabetes and elevated cholesterol to mention just a few. I,in fact have a higher BMI than I should. As a result I have elevated blood pressure and glucose readings. My mother who has already entered her eight decade has lost weight and now has normal blood pressure readings. She is an insulin resistant diabetic and now has near normal glucose readings. She takes no medication other than supplements and watches her diet. She is my hero and the one that inspires me to do better.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Survey in 2009-2010 showed that adults over 60 were more likely to be obese than their younger counterparts. Now a new study shows that maintaining a proper weight post menopause could not only improve a woman’s chance of living past 80, but also improve their quality of life and mobility.

Losing weight is often easier said than done. This is especially true in women as they often tend to put on weight after menopause. To make matters worse, co-morbidities such as arthritis or COPD only add to the difficulty in staying active and exercising. As my mother has shown, it can be done.

A recently published study in the JAMA Internal Medicine was done to investigate how extra weight affects a women’s ability to perform activities of daily living and mobility. Eileen Rillamas-Sun was the lead researcher for the study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

"We chose to do this study because we wanted to learn more about the health status of older women, who represent a growing segment of the U.S. population," said Rillamas-Sun

"We recognized that the health status of older women varies widely and we focused on obesity because of the high rates of obesity in this country," she said.

The study researched over 36,000 women between the years 1993 and 1998. During this time frame the women they were 66 to 81 years old. The purpose was to see how women’s body mass index (BMI) and waist size correlated with their chances of developing a disabling disease or issues with mobility by the time they turned 85.

The results were that the women who were already obese at the beginning of the study had issues with mobility as they aged. Only12 percent of the participants that started out at a healthy weight were disabled by 85. Whereas18 percent of moderately overweight women and nearly 34 percent of the obese women developed mobility problems.

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Waist size measurements produced similar findings with 25 percent of women with a waist measurement greater than 35 inches were disabled by 85 as compared to only 14 percent of women who had smaller measurements.

The researchers concluded that by maintaining proper mobility it not only allowed for a greater chance for independence, but also decreased the chances of the person developing chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and cardiac disease.

Not that long ago I was visiting a friend of mine who is in her 60’s and is overweight. She was lamenting how she could not do what she wanted to do because of her weight. It was simple things too. She was not complaining about not being able to fit into chairs in theaters or doctor’s offices. Nor was she irritated about not being able to buy the fashionable clothing at the mall. She is sad as she could no longer wear her wedding band her husband gave her over 30 years ago. She is frustrated that she could not bend over and pick up her toddler grandson. What upset her most though was she could no care for her feet properly or tie her own shoes. She is a fiercely independent woman, and having to ask her husband to help her is difficult for her.These are things that we take for granted. She has recently purchased a second hand treadmill and intends to get more active. She has already lost 10 lbs and is encouraged. One step at a time is her new motto.

According to the guidelines set forth in the CDC’s Strategies to Prevent Obesity and Other Chronic Diseases, an increase in physical activity is the number one way to treat obesity and the chronic conditions that are associated.

Adults should consistently increase their aerobic activity. They recommend that for adults that are aged 18-64 to add activity into their day for at least 2 ½ hours every week. This could include activities such as walking either outdoors or on a treadmill. Those that are able to jog or run could do so for an hour and 15 minutes a week and meet their recommendations. In addition strength training which builds both bones and muscle strength should be done at least twice a week.

For adults over 65, the same recommendations are encouraged with the addition of balance exercises to help build core strength and help prevent falls. Ground level falls can be disabling and even deadly.

It is of course an advantage if you are physically fit before the age of 60 however it is never too late. By starting a regular exercise regimen, you may be able to reduce weight as well as reduce menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, depression, anxiety and insomnia.

Exercise forms

  • Aerobic exercise: Walking, running, biking and dance are good forms of aerobic exercise. Work up to 30 or more minutes per session, three or four days a week. Practice the “talk test” which means that you exercise up to the point that you can no longer hold a conversation because you are too winded. If that happens you need to back up a bit.
  • Strength training: The National Institute on Aging recommends strength training exercises with dumbbells or ankle weights that include repetitive arm raises and side leg raises. Lifting hand weights can improve your strength and posture as well as toning muscles. Start with a hand weight that you can comfortably lift for 6-8 repetitions. This is generally between 2-5 Lbs. Gradually add more reps until you can complete at least 10.
  • Stretching: Stretching exercises help maintain flexibility and increase range of motion. Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi are excellent choices. They build core body strength and balance.

Take home message
Obesity is increasing in our society in general. We are eating more calories that we need and not moving around as much. Studies such as this one highlight the importance of following a healthy diet and getting proper exercise. Remember to contact your healthcare practitioner before starting any new exercise program.

JAMA Intern Med. Published online November 11, 2013