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Nutrition for Active Seniors – Weight Management

By Jiri Kaloc

Maintaining a healthy weight and body composition is really important for seniors. It’s no longer only about looking good, it’s about being healthy and able to stay active. Let’s learn how to stay in the optimal weight range as you age.

Both overweight or underweight are bad

Too much body fat is related to higher inflammation, high blood sugar, eye problems, kidney damage, and cancer. Too little fat can be the cause of worse recovery from pneumonia, cancer, influenza, or digestive issues and an increased risk of fractures. Research says that the sweet spot for the elderly is between 25 and 32 Body Mass Index (BMI). It is calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared.

First, you have to avoid being hungry. Having satiating and nutritious breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day will help a lot. © Profimedia, Depositphotos Inc.

What made you get out of the sweet spot?

Social isolation, low appetite, digestion problems, or zinc deficiency are all correlated with skipping meals and eating less nutritious meals. This is why many seniors end up underweight. Conversely, more leisure time, frequent eating out, combined with less activity and metabolic action due to resulting decreased muscle mass can end up in excess weight. Let’s see what to do in both scenarios.

When you need to lose weight

Make whole foods the bulk of your diet. Include a lot of fresh or cooked vegetables and a protein source in each of your meals. Cook for yourself, take time with the preparation as well as eating to notice feelings of fullness better. Avoid mindless eating and snacking late at night in front of the TV. For a more detailed weight-loss plan, check out our series.

If you commit to having three good meals a day with one or two sensible snacks based on activity levels, you’ll have a great foundation. © Profimedia, Depositphotos Inc.

When you need to gain weight

Your top priority is getting in enough protein. As mentioned in the previous article, shoot for 1,5 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight. This macronutrient will give you the most bang for your nutritional buck. But to gain weight, you need to have plenty of energy in your diet overall. This is where foods rich in healthy fats can help. You can boost your favourite carb sides (rice, potatoes, pasta) with butter or olive oil. Or try adding full-fat yoghurts, aged cheeses, avocados, and fatty fish like sardines, salmon and tuna to your menu. Experiment with nuts and seeds (or butters made from them), they are great in salads or porridge. Adding one or two of these things to your usual diet will make a difference over time. Start with a small change.

Sleep is important in both cases

Sleep is, of course, important for many reasons but it is crucial for keeping a healthy weight. It significantly influences your hormones. Good sleep will promote a healthy and stable appetite. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, raises your stress hormone cortisol, which increases hunger and breakdown of muscle tissue. Poor sleep also increases the hunger hormone ghrelin and decreases leptin, the hormone of satiety.

One thing that affects the length and quality of your sleep is how ready for sleep you are.

Seniors can require anywhere between 5 to 9 hours of sleep a day. It differs from person to person but length is not everything. Sleep that’s regular, uninterrupted, and sufficiently deep is what makes the difference. Here are a few tips to help you achieve it.

  • Expose your eyes to at least 30 minutes of bright light early in the morning. A morning walk is a great option.
  • Turn down the lights and avoid stimulating activities at least an hour before bed.
  • Make your bedroom as dark as possible and keep it quiet and cool (between 15 – 19 °C).
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Set an alarm clock for both evening and morning to get started.
  • Create a relaxing sleep routine, have a bath, read some calming literature, or go for a slow walk outside.

Next up in Nutrition for Active Seniors series