Obesity and its impact on the elderly

Article by Dr. Manjunath Malige, Lead Consultant – Endocrinology & Diabetes, Aster RV Hospital

Immunity is generally at its peak when people are in their youth. As people age, it requires more upkeep to maintain a strong immune system as the body’s natural immunity slowly declines. Due to this the body’s capacity of fighting diseases and keeping itself healthy goes down, thus making the elderly population susceptible to various ailments. As the population ages, co-morbidities such as weight gain and other illnesses associated with weight again are increasing greatly. Obesity and weight gain is a growing health concern in the elderly population. 

Why do Elders Tend to Gain Weight or Become Obese?

Hormonal and metabolic changes occur in the body as a part of the ageing process. Many elders do not make changes to their eating habits and continue to eat the same amount of food as they used to consume earlier. Body metabolism slows down and the amount of physical activity decreases. The consumed food does not get burned off but instead gets accumulated in the body in the form of fat. 

Impact of Weight Gain

Overweight or obese elderly individuals are at high risk of developing disorders such as:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Cardiac illnesses
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Kidney damage
  • Arthritis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Body ache
  • Breathing disorders

Apart from physical ailments, excess body weight can also lead to decreased quality of life. This can lead to mental illnesses such as anxiety, mood-swings, depression, low self-esteem and other disorders that can further deteriorate their physical health, personal and social life. 

Tips to Shed Excess Weight

If you are an elderly individual wanting to lose weight or if you have an elderly loved one who wants to prevent weight gain, here are a few pointers that can help.

  • Get Professional Guidance Before Dieting

Consult your doctor before making changes to your diet. It is important to keep in mind that diets that work well for younger people can be counterproductive or even dangerous for older adults. You may even speak to a dietician who can help you design a good and healthy diet plan that suits your age, health status and lifestyle. 

  • Restrict Intake Of Junk Foods

Food items such as fries, chips, chocolates, cakes, pastries, pizzas, ice creams, cookies etc are often consumed as comfort eating. These foodstuffs increase weight and can be one of the major reasons for obesity. 

  • Indulge in Physical Activity

Take up any sport that you enjoy doing such as swimming, cycling, tennis etc. Make sure you get at least an hour of physical activity. If you find that sports are too strenuous, you can take up brisk walking or light jogging. It is important to listen to your body. There might be days that you will not feel like doing the routine exercise. On such days, you can do a little bit of cardio, stretching or yoga. 

  • Break Down Exercise Sessions

If you feel that longer exercise or sports sessions put your body under physical stress, you can break down the exercises into 10-15 minute sessions throughout the day. This way you can mix up the exercises and make them fun.

  • Get Proper Sleep

A good sleep can help you burn calories. If your body is not well rested, you tend to feel hungry. Make sure you get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. 

  • Smoking, Alcohol and Drugs

Smoking, alcohol and illegal drugs damage your body in several ways. If you are wanting to shed weight, quit smoking and drugs and cut down the consumption of alcohol. 

  • Join A Community or Support Group

One of the best ways to make sure you stay physically active is to join a support group or a local community for seniors. Many times elders feel lonely or isolated due to which they do not get involved in social activities. They tend to stay home more often, thus leading to weight gain. If you join a group that has individuals of your age, it helps you stay connected and you participate in various activities, thus keeping you mentally and physically active. 

  • Review Medications That Can Cause Weight Gain

Some medications such as anti-seizure drugs, painkillers, steroids, antidepressants, beta-blockers etc can cause weight gain. It is important to review all medications with your doctor and evaluate if any of them are causing weight gain. Your doctor can review any supplements or drugs that you are taking and substitute them for alternatives that do not cause weight gain. However, this should be done only by an endocrinologist. 

In A Nutshell

Losing weight especially in elders can be a long process since utmost care has to be taken to see that there are no detrimental effects on their health. However, with proper medical care and family support, elders can lead an active and healthy lifestyle.

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