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Age Doesn't Have to Be a Barrier to Weight Loss, Study Finds

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Key Takeaways

  • Age is not a factor for weight loss when lifestyle interventions are used, according to a recent study.
  • The study results are important for people over 75 with obesity, who are considered poor candidates for bariatric procedures.
  • Although older people can lose weight as effectively as younger people, obesity can be problematic at any age, making nutrition and exercise choices especially important.

Older age does not lower the chances of weight loss success when using lifestyle interventions, a study in Clinical Endocrinology reports.??

Researchers selected 242 patients with morbid obesity who had attended a hospital-based obesity education program from 2005 to 2016. In order to understand the effects of everyday habits, they chose participants who received only lifestyle weight loss interventions, rather than a surgical options like gastric bypass.

Participants were categorized into two groups according to age, with about two-thirds in a group under age 60, and the rest in an over-60 group. Researchers found that after implementation of lifestyle changes, there were no differences between the two groups in terms of weight loss effectiveness.

The results are especially important for those over age 75, the researchers add, because doctors are often reluctant to use more invasive weight loss inventions like bariatric surgery for those patients.

Potential Barriers

Although age itself did not seem to be a major factor in the recent study's conclusions, researchers did note that some obesity-related issues could overlap with age-associated conditions, and this might slow down weight loss efforts.

This is especially true with factors that can potentially reduce mobility, and subsequently, increase potential sedentary time. These can include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular conditions
  • Respiratory issues
  • Balance problems

"In one sense, obesity accelerates the normal aging process at a faster rate than in similarly aged, lean counterparts," according to the researchers. "Older patients with obesity are likely to suffer a 'double-whammy' of co-morbidity, dually influenced by both obesity and aging."

Rather than see this situation as a barrier, though, the researchers suggest it should spur motivation instead. Those who are older and already overweight or obese might find assurance that their weight loss efforts really can work, for instance. And those who are younger and face weight issues might see this as an additional prompt to control weight as a way to mitigate the effects of aging.

Starting Point

For those who are over age 60 and not regular exercisers, it's important to introduce lifestyle changes in a way that feels like a long-term strategy, advises Nicole Avena, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and author of Why Diets Fail.

"No matter what your age, you want to approach weight loss or weight maintenance as something of a side effect," she says. "Instead of focusing on that as your primary, and potentially only, goal for the next few months, focus instead on making healthy changes that can give you a range of benefits."

For example, eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein can not only potentially help with weight loss, but has also been shown to:

  • Lower inflammation
  • Increase energy
  • Improve sleep
  • Lower dementia risk
  • Boost heart health
  • Improve digestion
  • Strengthen immunity

All of these are vital components to healthy aging, so even if you don't have any weight to lose, it's worth pursuing healthy changes to eating for those kind of advantages, she believes.

Get Moving

Similar to shifting eating habits to healthier choices, getting more activity can also be a fundamental part of both weight loss and anti-aging strategies. Often, there's a temptation to become more sedentary as we age, and that can make weight gain seem inevitable, but that's not true, suggests Belinda Beck, PhD, from Griffith University in Australia, who also owns The Bone Clinic, a health service focusing on bone, muscle, and joint health.

Nicole Avena, PhD

No matter what your age, you want to approach weight loss or weight maintenance as something of a side effect. Instead of focusing on that as your primary, and potentially only, goal for the next few months, focus instead on making healthy changes that can give you a range of benefits.

— Nicole Avena, PhD

"There is an unfortunate and prevailing belief that the older you get, the more fragile you become and therefore you have to take it easy," she says. "But the truth is the other way around. The more you take it easy, the more fragile you become. Age will just speed up that process."

For example, in her research?? on postmenopausal women, Beck found that older participants in a program based on high-impact exercise increased bone density compared to those who were more sedentary—and that their bone density continued to improve even if they discontinued the exercise.??

For those who are carrying more weight to lose and feel concerned about a vigorous exercise program, there's one tactic that can help, says Beck.

"Just start walking," she suggests. "You don't have to track it or aim for a certain distance at first, just get in the habit of doing that movement, ideally every day. After a while, you'll want to start challenging yourself, but the important first step is a literal one. Take a walk today. Then do it again tomorrow."

What This Means For You

With lifestyle shifts like healthier eating and daily activity, it doesn't matter what age you might be or what health conditions—such as obesity—you might be facing. Beck says those changes can bring improvements for decades to come. And you may lose some weight along the way.

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  1. Leyden, E,?Hanson, P,?Halder, L, et al.?Older age does not influence the success of weight loss through the implementation of lifestyle modification.?Clin Endocrinol (Oxf).?2020;?00:?1–?6.?doi:10.1111/cen.14354

  2. Watson SL, Weeks BK, Weis LJ, Harding AT, Horan SA, Beck BR. High-intensity resistance and impact training improves bone mineral density and physical function in postmenopausal women with osteopenia and osteoporosis: The LIFTMOR randomized controlled trial. J Bone Miner Res. 2018 Feb;33(2):211-220. doi:10.1002/jbmr.3284.