Living a healthy lifestyle is important for people of any age group, but research has revealed that it becomes even more important later in life.
As we reach our senior years, the consequences of living a sedentary lifestyle become more apparent. Specifically, sticking to a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight can help you reduce the risks of several serious medical conditions. Understanding how being overweight or obese can negatively impact your health may help you stay motivated in sticking to a regiment of nutritious eating and daily physical activity.
In this article, we will cover the various ways seniors can remain independent and healthy longer, by maintaining a healthy weight.
Avoid Developing Arthritis
Arthritis is a painful and debilitating condition that affects the joints throughout the body. We know that obesity is a contributing risk factor for the disease, so one of the health benefits of staying physically fit is reducing the likelihood of developing this condition. Additionally, regular physical activity helps keep the joints lubricated and functioning normally. Even if you do develop arthritis, daily exercise can help reduce the severity of symptoms.
Reduce the Risks of Developing Heart Disease
Heart disease is one of the top killers of people in the United States, claiming one out of every four deaths. The risk of developing heart disease is increased in people who are overweight or obese, so maintaining a healthy weight is essential to good heart health. A nutritious diet, packed with vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats, is one way to promote better heart health. Additionally, regular exercise will help you keep your weight at a healthy level and will help your body better regulate blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and LDL cholesterol.
Lower the Risks of Developing Type II Diabetes
This type diabetes develops when the body can no longer regulate blood sugar in the body. The development of this type diabetes is more common in those experiencing weight problems. While eliminating sugar from your diet is one way to control the effects of the disease, diabetes may be prevented through regular physical activity as well. The burning of energy that occurs in exercise helps the body regulate insulin levels more efficiently, so blood sugar will be used instead of stored in the body.
Fight Off Cancer
Developing several types of cancer, including breast cancer, becomes more likely in seniors with a larger waist circumference. Alternatively, regular physical activity can keep cancerous cells from developing in the body. In one study, women who engaged in moderate daily exercise reduced their risks of developing breast cancer by 30-40%.
Maintain Good Muscle Mass
In the past, we assumed seniors experienced bone and muscle loss as an inevitable result of aging, but that may not be true. Those seniors who stick to a healthy diet and consume healthy fats, while engaging in daily physical activity were able to maintain muscle mass. Keeping muscles and bones strong through exercise help seniors avoid the balance problems and general weakness that often result in accidents and broken bones. Working to maintain strength can help seniors avoid the physical degeneration that was once assumed to be an unavoidable fact of aging.
A combination of inactivity and obesity contributes greatly to the development of high blood pressure, but the opposite is also true. Losing weight can help lower the blood pressure, while regular physical activity will help you avoid a high blood pressure in the future. Exercise of a moderate intensity will help maintain healthy systolic blood pressure levels, but enjoying these health benefits means maintaining a physically active lifestyle throughout your life. Once you begin gaining weight and reduce the physical activity in your daily routine, you may see your hypertension return.
Maintain Physical Mobility
Those seniors who have an unhealthy waist circumference experience a limited range of motion, which can prevent them from engaging in regular, everyday activities. Many seniors simply accept this change in mobility as a fact of growing old, but living a more active lifestyle can improve this condition. As you begin to burn fat and build muscle, you will find that your range of motion has also improved. This means you can continue living independently for longer, since you won’t need assistance to take on more complex tasks.
Sleep and Weight Gain are Linked
Poor sleep can lead to weight gain, but becoming overweight or obese can also lead to sleep deprivation. It’s an unhealthy cycle that can start mildly and increase over time. One study found that women who experienced sleep deprivation had a 15% greater risk of gaining weight than those women who were able to sleep a full seven hours per night.
A lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain in a number of ways. Feeling overly tired can inhibit your decision-making process, leading you to eat unhealthy foods more often. You may also feel too fatigued to engage in your regular exercise routine, so, in addition to eating fattening foods, you’re not doing anything to burn those calories. Since you’re awake for longer, you’ll also have more opportunities to eat and the hormones that control appetite will make you feel hungrier.
A Word About Underweight Seniors
Obesity isn’t the only fitness problem that negatively affects senior health. Losing too much weight can also be a problem and it can be just as serious as being overweight. Typically, losing too much weight may indicate that you’re not eating the right foods to give your body the vitamins, nutrients, and protein it needs to function properly. This type of malnutrition can inhibit the immune system and make it less effective. This is why many underweight seniors are prone to chronic illness and even suffer from the common cold or flu more frequently.
Additionally, being underweight and eating unhealthy diets affects muscle and bone strength. Since the musculoskeletal system isn’t getting the nutrients it needs to maintain proper health, you can expect bone loss and muscle loss to become a problem. Over a prolonged period of time, bones will become brittle and you may experience muscle atrophy.
Stave Off Dementia
Living a sedentary lifestyle also has a way of impacting mental health, especially in seniors. Mature adults who aren’t physically active are more prone to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. However, the risk of cognitive degeneration can be reduced through regular physical activity. In a recent study, senior adults who engaged in moderate physical activity on a regular basis reduced the risks of developing dementia by 66% overall. This suggests that staying physically active is especially important for seniors with a higher risk of developing dementia.
Reduce the Risk of Depression
Depression affects people in every age group, but it can be especially common among the elderly. One reason for this is that they stop engaging in the physical or social activities that once gave them pleasure. By looking for new ways to engage in physical activity, seniors can keep their weight under control and feel better about themselves. Recent research found that group exercise classes helped seniors reduce the risks of developing depression by 30% or more. Both the physical activity and the opportunity to socialize with other mature adults helped seniors feel better about themselves and helped control mood.
While achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important, it’s equally vital to change your lifestyle under the guidance of your doctor. Your caregiver can help you work out a proper diet for your situation and can guide you in starting to live a more active lifestyle. Overall, starting slow and gradually increasing your level of physical activity will help you control your weight without taking on additional health risks.