Written by Arlene Dalcin, R.D., L.D.N., and Meghan Oefinger, B.S., H.F.S.
Overweight and obesity affects more than 66 percent of the adult population and is associated with a variety of chronic diseases such as hypertension, dyslipidemia and type 2 diabetes.
Numerous studies have shown that among the overweight and obese, a weight loss as small as 3 percent can reduce a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease by improving cholesterol, glucose tolerance and blood pressure profiles. Moreover, energy restriction in conjunction with physical activity will result in greater weight loss than diet restriction alone. As a cautionary note, those who recently lost weight may find it difficult to recover from even small (1-2 kg) weight regains. This level of maintenance requires close attention to caloric balance. Specifically, one must balance the energy (calories) taken in from foods and beverages with the energy the body expends through physical activity and other bodily processes. Difficulty maintaining this balance varies at different stages of our lives.
Daily caloric requirements fluctuate tremendously from individual to individual, based on a person’s resting metabolic rate. Based on available scientific literature, ACSM recommends adults carefully monitor energy intake and participate in at least 150-250 minutes/week of moderate-intensity physical activity to prevent significant weight gain and to reduce chronic disease risk factors. While these lifestyle recommendations may appear deceptively simple, across the life-span individuals experience different challenges with maintaining a healthy weight.
20s and 30s
At this stage in life, it is important to establish and maintain healthy habits. This should include healthy eating patterns such as the DASH diet (http://dashdiet.org) and avoidance of excess calories from sugared beverages and alcohol. Starting a career and family creates new demands on time for exercise and cooking. Learning quick food preparation methods can prevent relying on high-calorie convenience and fast foods. You also need to learn how to prioritize aerobic exercise and strength training along with your other new responsibilities.
40s and 50s
People may start to notice some of the physiological changes corresponding with age. The body is no longer in growth and development mode. There may be decreases in cardiovascular function and muscle strength. A program that includes both resistance and aerobic training is essential to maintaining lean body mass. The body may need longer to recover from vigorous bouts of physical activity, and to avoid increased chances for injury, it is best to avoid the weekend warrior approach to exercise.
This is a good time to watch calories more closely. Reducing food portions and maintaining a consistent eating pattern throughout the week can help keep calories in check. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables can provide the body with adequate fiber for fullness and proper digestive function.
60s and Beyond
Focus starts to shift away from wanting to run a five-minute mile toward maintaining functional capacity, independence, and the ability to engage in high quality of life activities such as playing with grandchildren. When chronic conditions prevent doing the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, the key is to remain as physically active as abilities and conditions allow. Choose activities that help maintain balance, flexibility and strength.
Social isolation from leaving the work force and/or the loss of a spouse can interfere with healthy eating behaviors. Learning to cook for one and having a limited budget may be deterrents to food preparation. Finding ways to share meals with others can prevent the reliance on prepackaged meals, which can be very calorie-dense and not very nutritious.
Managing the quality and quantity of foods consumed and staying active throughout the life cycle are essential to healthy weight maintenance. Routine self-weighing will allow for a quick reversal of weight gain. Rather than following extreme exercise or diet regime is, regularly adjusting calories consumed with energy expended will allow for a more balanced approach to weight management as you age.
View the full summer 2010 issue of the ACSM Fit Society® Page online.