3 Sure-Fire Ways to Maintain a Healthy Weight as You Age
Midlife weight gain threatens your future health and well-being. Stop it now.
Posted Jul 14, 2019
It may seem inevitable that weight gain is simply a part of aging you have to accept, but that train of thought can be dangerous for your long-term health. Studies have found that midlife weight gain significantly increases the risk of developing obesity-related cancers, which include postmenopausal breast, uterine, endometrial and ovarian in women, as well as colon, rectum, stomach, liver, gallbladder, kidney, thyroid, esophageal and blood cancers such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.
The statistics are eye-opening: Researchers found the risk of cancer for midlife men and women who gained more than a pound a year over the course of 14 years was 38 percent higher than for those whose weight remained stable. Factor in metabolic conditions such as diabetes, high triglycerides (blood fats) or high blood pressure, and it shoots up to a 77 percent increase over those who maintain a healthier weight.
Those who gained weight throughout midlife were at higher risk of developing cancer than those who entered midlife already overweight, even those who were already overweight and had a metabolic disease. Researchers think the increased risk of cancer may be due to the inflammatory qualities of excess body fat that is more evident during times of weight gain than in times of weight stability, even when a person is already overweight. That may also help explain the underlying relationship between aging, body fat and other health conditions, like heart disease.
For most people, weight gain at midlife and beyond is the result of reduced physical activity. But while exercise may be the most important tool for maintaining a healthy fitness level at any age, common physical conditions that start to appear in midlife—chronic back pain, osteoarthritis, and other “itises”—can make even normal, everyday activities more difficult. But it’s not impossible to keep your weight in check. The best advice? Do the best you can do, every day, to develop and practice healthy lifestyle habits.
Weight maintenance is a challenge for many people, with or without a medical excuse. To help you meet that challenge, avoid stressful situations whenever you can, and learn how to manage unavoidable stress through techniques such as deep breathing and biofeedback, which can teach you to respond to stress in healthier ways. Another important key to stress reduction and positivity, as well as weight control, is to be sure you get enough sleep at night.
A positive attitude goes a long way toward helping you maintain as healthy a lifestyle as possible, even when you can't balance food and exercise to manage your weight as well as you'd like to, or as well as you used to. Positive thinking encourages a “can do” attitude that won’t let you give up so easily. Negativity, on the other hand, can be self-defeating because the way you think affects the way you act, so a defeatist attitude can result in actions (or lack of action) that can be quite destructive
Focus on what's good in your life, rather than what's bad. Anything you can do to make your life more fun and maintain a sense of humor will help you stay positive and continue to work on your health and well-being.
Move What You Can, When You Can
Don’t just sit around. Find as many ways to move as many body parts as you can throughout each day. Light housework or gardening, walking instead of driving or using public transportation, and other daily activities all contribute to your fitness level. Every type of activity burns some calories, so the more you move, even if you can't do strenuous exercise, the better you'll be able to control your weight, maintain muscle tone, and stay fit overall.
Mind-body exercises, such as yoga and t'ai chi, as well as gentle stretches and use of resistance bands, can help you maintain flexibility in your joints, reduce muscle stiffness and tension and maintain your physical strength. Many yoga studios and fitness centers have specialized classes that provide props and accommodations for older people and anyone with physical limitations. Before you start any new exercise program, check with your health care provider and go over all your health concerns to see which activities you can safely do to help stay fit. Perhaps even more importantly if you have arthritis or any other other health issues, be sure you know which activities you should limit or avoid.
Don’t Go On a Diet, Just Watch What You Eat
It goes without saying that the quality of your diet plays a role in your weight and fitness level, but don't be tempted to cut back too much, or skip meals because you’re trying to eat fewer calories. Those strategies almost always backfire and make maintenance even more difficult. Eating too little food forces your body into "starvation" mode, which means your body actually thinks it's starving and, in response, starts holding on to calories rather than burning them. When you skip a meal, you are also likely to overeat at the next meal. The rule of thumb for most people is to eat something, whether it is a snack or full meal, every three to five hours.
Some diet strategies are much more important and more effective than worrying about calorie counts. Remember to drink water and other non-caloric fluids throughout the day, and include plenty of foods in your diet that are high in fluids, such as fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and yogurt. Get lots of fiber from plant foods: whole grains, legumes (beans, lentils, peas), and, again, fruits and vegetables. The secret is to have plenty of healthful foods on hand and ready to eat at all times, so they become your go-to instead of processed snack foods and other convenience products. Don't deprive yourself of food you like, even if they’re not the healthiest. Instead, fit them into your overall diet in small doses so they become something you look forward to rather than something you regret. Space your meals and snacks out at appropriate times and be sure you have the food you need to follow the plan.
Besides planning a healthy diet, it helps to make a list of things you can do with yourself throughout the day besides eating and keep that list handy. (Hang it on your fridge.) That way, if you’re feeling bored or frustrated or lonely, or if for any reason, you’re tempted to eat when you're not really hungry, you can go to your list and immediately find something else to do. Include lots of simple, easy activities on your list, such as going out for a walk, pulling weeds from your yard or garden, getting a manicure or pedicure, calling or texting friends, going to the library, or window shopping. Keep coming up with new and satisfying non-food ways to spend your time, and encourage others to join you.
Chadid S, Singer MR, Kreger BE, Bradlee ML, Moore LL. Midlife weight gain is a risk factor for obesity-related cancer. British Journal of Cancer. June 23, 2018; 18:1665-1671. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41416-018-0106-x
Strandberg TE, Strandberg A, Salomaa VV, Pitkala K, Miettinen TA. Impact of midlife weight change on mortality and quality of life in old age. Prospective cohort study. International Journal of Obesity. July 15 2003; 27: 950-954. https://www.nature.com/articles/0802313
Kravitz HM, Kazlauskaite R, Joffe H. Sleep, Health, and Metabolism in Midlife Women and Menopause: Food for Thought. Obstetrics & Gynecology Clinics. December 18; 45(4): 679-694. https://www.obgyn.theclinics.com/article/S0889-8545(18)30068-8/abstract