I’m 86 years old and I need to lose weight. I’ve tried diets in the past and was successful, but I’m finding it very difficult to lose weight at my age. My cholesterol is high, I’m about 30 pounds overweight, and I lack energy. Is there hope for me?
– Mrs. Eleanor Kenny
Dear Mrs. Kenny,
Weight gain is sometimes part of the aging process for several reasons: Muscle mass decreases from 45% of your total body weight to 27% by age 75. Hormones drop in both men and women precipitating a decrease in muscle mass thus triggering weight gain. For some, body fat can double even if your weight remains the same. Muscle mass depletion seems to be the culprit to weight gain. Add inactivity and improper nutrition to the mix and you’ve got a very complex problem resulting in health conditions that compromise the quality of life. However, weight loss can be possible if a well designed program is followed. A well designed program involves three key elements: A sound nutrition plan, an appropriate exercise program, and wellness activities and life style changes that support good health.
How to Choose a Weight Loss Program:
There are many weight loss programs on the market by professionals touting that his/her diet is the best. Based on information from the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the Center for Disease Control, the following guidelines will help you when choosing a safe, healthy and effective nutrition program.
Is the Diet Healthy?
A healthy weight loss plan will include foods from every food group; lean meats, poultry, fish, and chicken; plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates from whole grains. These nutrients provide the body necessary fuel for energy, mental/physical stamina, and weight loss. Any diet program that excludes major food groups is not a healthy diet.
The Diet Must be Individualized.
Following a diet plan formulated for everyone in your age or weight category is not personalized. If not enough nutrients are present in the diet, bone, muscle, and organ tissue can be lost masking as weight loss on the scale. Medically supervised weight loss that provides an individual nutrition plan is key to weight loss success.
Adequate protein is the key to any healthy diet. Without adequate protein, the body can lose bone and organ tissue. Protein needs vary from person to person based on age, height, current weight, health and other factors.
Supplementation may be necessary. It is best to get necessary nutrients from healthy foods. However, our food sources don’t always provide the required nutrients for optimal health. For seniors, the following key nutrients are important for overall health and weight loss.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – makes it possible for your body to convert the food you consume each day into energy. It helps to maintain good vision and skin health. Riboflavin is required for the production of niacin, another B Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine).
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – supports new cell development and helps with the production of niacin and the neurotransmitter serotonin. It boosts the immune system and regulates blood sugar levels. B6 reduces heart disease risk by keeping homocysteine levels low. High homocysteine levels have been linked to clogged arteries and heart disease.
Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin/cobalamin) – is critical for proper nerve and brain development and for the production of healthy red blood cells. If B12 levels are low, mental functioning can diminish and balance and coordination can be impaired. A prolonged, severe deficiency of B12 that goes uncorrected can cause irreversible nerve damage.
Choline – this is probably the least known of the “B’s.” It was officially recognized as an essential nutrient in 1998, Choline is involved in a wide variety of body functions. Choline is the raw material of neurotransmitters and cell membranes. Animal studies suggest that adequate intake of choline early in life can diminish the severity of memory loss that comes with aging.
Movement is a Key Component
In addition to a healthy, medically supervised, and individualized nutrition plan, exercise is very important for weight loss and optimal health. For seniors, exercise can be a challenge if health conditions such as arthritis are present, which can result in painful workouts. Regardless of any physical challenge, there are exercise classes and programs created with these challenges in mind. The National Institute of Health recommends four types of exercises to attain and maintain health:
1. Strength exercises builds muscle and bones, increases metabolism, and aids in controlling blood sugar and body weight.
2. Balance exercises build leg muscles, and prevent falls. According to the NIH, U.S. hospitals have 300,000 admissions for broken hips each year, many of them seniors, and falling is often the cause of those fractures.
3. Stretching exercises can increase range of motion, allowing you to be more active during your senior years. Stretching exercises alone will not improve your endurance or strength.
4. Endurance exercises — walking, jogging, swimming, biking, even raking leaves — anything that increase your heart rate and respiration for an extended period of time. Build up your endurance gradually, starting with as little as 5 minutes of endurance activities at a time.
All of these exercises can be incorporated into a weekly workout regime. Exercising 3-4 days per week is optimal. Many exercise classes provide a combination of these exercises. For instance, Tai Chi, focuses on stretching and balance. Chair aerobics and light weight training can be enjoyed if leg, hip, or knee problems prevent strenuous endurance exercises. Water aerobics is also great providing all four exercise types.
Focus on Wellness in Addition to Weight loss and Exercise
Wellness is a concept that has become popular in the last few years. It involves a complete sense of wellbeing, not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well. Emotional eating sabotages all weight loss efforts and negativity, its cousin, will derail all efforts toward getting healthier and losing weight. A wellness program can be created by including something simple like reading a book on spiritual growth, participating in a weight loss support group, or simply practicing positive thinking activities. When I worked with my celebrity trainer, she taught me the importance of positive thinking and I practiced daily the following exercises:
1. Visualization – She encouraged me to create a vision board with pictures of my desired weight and enjoying activities promoting health. I didn’t like to exercise, so my board had pictures of people working out, and liking it. Looking at it daily helped me shift my experience; over time I did begin to enjoy exercise. The patients I’ve worked with have used this strategy with great results. It helps the subconscious mind recognize life style changes can be fun and easy.
2. Positive Affirmations – An affirmation is a statement reflecting a belief, beliefs turn into actions and actions into results. Speaking words and statements reflecting the desired results is best. Say these statements repeatedly and in time, the statement becomes a belief with a positive outcome! Instead of focusing on what you don’t want, focus words and statements of what you do want such as, “I enjoy eating healthy foods and it is easy to make healthy choices.”
3. Stop being your own worst critic – Focus on all the positive things you are doing, instead of the things you are still trying to change. If you are keeping food records, exercising, but had a high calorie food item one day, don’t beat yourself up. Think about why you ate the food, and move on. Losing weight is not about being perfect, it’s about being consistent.
4. Engage in activities that promote reaching your goals – When you’re in the process of losing weight, don’t focus on baking cookies just because your grandkids like them. Kids like healthy foods too! Make healthy treats with them, allow them to be creative. You are not only honoring your own goals, but you are passing along healthy to the next generation.
When I weighed over 232 pounds, I tried many diet and exercise programs, but it wasn’t until I received professional guidance that success became a reality. I learned that it takes a sound nutrition program, appropriate exercise, and wellness activities for weight loss to be successful and lasting.
Choosing a nutrition plan that is healthy, participating in exercise that is appropriate, and including wellness activities have been the tools that help improve health, reverse illness, and provide safe and healthy weight loss. Age doesn’t have to be a barrier to optimal health and with the right guidance and support, weight loss and optimal health can be a reality at any age.
Camille Tirzah is a weight loss coach and nutritional specialist with Personal Physician Care. She has been on the cover of People Magazine, interviewed on the Good Morning America Show, and highlighted on Entertainment tonight for losing 100 pounds. Her journey is documented in the book titled, “Fat Chick to Cover Model.”She has helped hundreds of people regain their health through sound nutrition guidance and healthy lifestyle habits.
Personal Physician Care
561-498-5660 ext 346