Senior Obesity Guide: Senior Health and Bariatric Surgery

Written By: Editor In Chief
Senior Obesity Guide

    For any person, being overweight or obese brings with it serious health complications, risks, and physical limitations. Being older amplifies these risks. It’s not only that you’re older but also that you’re facing less mobility, and it’s not as easy as it once was to get up and move around. 

    As the baby boomer generation continues to age, there’s a real risk factor concerning long-term health and well-being. A large portion of this generation is overweight or obese. Yet, with limited physical fitness and a diet that’s high in carbs (thanks in part to what was considered healthy in the 1950s and 1960s), seniors need help. It’s not too late to lose weight and, in doing so, improve their quality of life and health. The question is, how do you do it as an older adult?

    Obesity and Overweight Seniors: Statistics 

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paints a very clear picture. They note that over 41% of people over the age of 60 are obese. That increases the risk for health complications, including:

    • Heart disease
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • Strokes
    • Some types of cancer

    This isn’t just a problem in the U.S. The World Health Organization states that 1 in 8 people around the world were obese in 2021, and people are entering their older years more overweight than previous generations. That means that people in their 50s are at a higher rate of being unhealthy as they enter into retirement, where they’ll likely slow down physically. 

    Losing Weight When You’re Older 

    Complicating matters for seniors who are overweight or obese is the limitation on weight loss. It’s just harder to lose weight the older you get, and that often worsens when you reach retirement age, and you’re no longer working. There are several reasons for this, according to the National Institute on Aging. 

    • Getting older means you’ll lose more muscle. With less muscle comes less fat-burning power. If you do not get in extra exercise, you may lose muscle at a much faster rate.
    • Changes in metabolism occur. As a person ages, their body burns fewer calories to accomplish tasks during the day. 
    • Mobility changes impact exercise and fitness. Getting older, especially if overweight, can trigger complications to health through a lack of mobility. It’s harder to exercise when you’re older, and that means less fat burning. 
    • Not adjusting diets. When you’re older, your body’s metabolism also changes how you burn calories. If you continue to eat the same number of calories as you were when you were working or shuttling the kids around, the risk of gaining weight increases.
    • Illness onset can occur. Some people, whether from being overweight or not, may develop health conditions as they age. That could include cancers, heart disease, or other conditions that limit your physical mobility, leading to weight gain.

    Research and Support Is Available

    Nutrition programs for seniors are one strategy for getting the support you need. These resources provide you with immediate help:

    Nutritional Needs for Seniors

    A good starting point for most seniors is to consider what your actual caloric and nutritional needs are rather than eating your current diet. By making some changes, you could see improvement in your health and may even see some weight loss. 

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers some guidance for older adults, including:

    • Drinking enough fluid to stay hydrated
    • Those who are older need to eat more protein, as this helps to reduce muscle loss. 
    • Lower calories through a higher assortment of fruits and vegetables (if less active) 
    • Switch to whole grains to provide less desire to snack 
    • Balance sugar and salt with health conditions and needs 

    Perhaps what is most notable about these recommendations is that seniors need to tailor their diet to their activity level. For example, those who are no longer working or doing yard work need to cut back on caloric intake. More so, switching those calories away from sweets and empty calories, such as those from soda, can also help to improve health and minimize weight gain.

    Strategies for improving nutritional intake for seniors:

    Exercising When You’re Older

    It’s not just about eating the right foods, though. Many seniors find that the biggest reason they are unable to lose weight is the onset of limited mobility or just not having the same desire to exercise and remain physically active. 

    Exercise is critical because it helps burn calories. It also helps to reduce the risk of strokes and heart disease, especially those related to being overweight. How much is enough exercise depends on a person’s health conditions and any mobility concerns they have. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer the following recommendations for those who are over the age of 65:

    • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity at least a week. This could include 30 minutes of brisk walking every day for 5 days. 
    • 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, which can also be spread out over the week. Incorporate tasks like hiking, running, or swimming.
    • Strength training muscles at least 2 times per week. This may include resistance training and weight training.
    • Improve balance through exercises like yoga and standing on one foot with support.

    It’s always essential to consider any limitations and health risks. Speak to your doctor about recommendations for your needs. 

    Ready to start exercising? Choose these activities if you’re just beginning:

    • Neck stretches can increase mobility. Tilt your head to one side and roll it around, stretching the muscles as you do. Do the same with your shoulders.
    • Go for a 15-minute brisk walk in the mornings or play a game of pickleball at the local rec center.
    • Wall push ups can help with building muscle in the core while giving you ample support. Stand facing the wall, place your hands flat against the wall, and push your back to do push-up like movements.
    • Use a stationary cycle to get in cardio for 15 minutes each day. An inexpensive purchase, it’s like riding a bike while seated.

    Bariatric Surgery for Seniors 

    Seniors may wish to consider other alternatives to weight loss, like bariatric surgery when exercise and diet are not effective or possible. Research indicates that bariatric surgery can be both effective and safe for older people as long as they go through the process of being medically screened for it. In a study completed by Geisinger Medical Center, over 725 patients were followed for 10 years. Those participating lost an average of 22.5% of their weight and maintained that over 7 to 12 years. Those over 65 lost less weight but still saw benefits from weight loss surgery. 

    Alternatives to Bariatric Surgery 

    Older Americans can find alternatives to traditional bariatric surgery for weight loss. This includes procedures such as gastric injections that are repeated every six months. While surgical gastric bypass procedures are often an option for seniors, non-surgical weight loss procedures may also be supportive including the use of weight loss ballons and endoscopic sleeve procedures.

    The key for seniors to remember is that weight can be a factor in disease onset as well as in a drop in quality of life. Yet, even though weight loss gets harder to accomplish over a certain age, it’s still possible. For those who are medically cleared, bariatric surgery is one of the best routes to achieving faster results that last for years to come. While each individual’s specific needs and health implications must be taken into consideration, pursuing weight loss solutions for those who are seniors is critical to maintaining a good quality of life.

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