Seniors and Obesity: Four Steps to Reverse an Alarming Trend

By on March 14, 2018
Seniors and Obesity: Four Steps to Reverse an Alarming Trend

By Susan Fitts, business development director, Colonial Lindale, a StoneGate Senior Living community and Angela Norris, RN, senior vice president, business development, StoneGate Senior Living—

StoneGate Senior Living is a leading provider of rehabilitation, skilled nursing, assisted living, and memory care services. The company operates 43 communities spanning Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

The statistics are unsettling. More than one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese. A major catalyst in the crisis is the senior population, with 38.5 percent of U.S. adults age 60 and over considered critically overweight.  

Obesity contributes to a host of health problems. It dramatically increases the risk of contracting chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. It can also limit mobility and raise the risk of falls. 

The challenge goes beyond disease. Research finds that obese seniors are at greater risk of death than their younger overweight counterparts. Yet the obesity trend can be reversed, as long as seniors and their care providers are mindful of the issue – and take the right actions to combat it.

Here are four steps forward:

  1. Modify diet

We all know eating right can help maintain a healthy weight. But it’s easy to forget the basics. Nearly 25 percent of Americans’ calorie intake comes from sweets, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages. Another 5 percent comes from salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks. Nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables are just 10 percent of the average American’s calorie intake. 

Plan meals with nutrition in mind. Take simple steps to lower calories. Avoid high-fat foods such as bacon, fried chicken, and full-fat cheese. Eat smaller portions. Load up on vegetables, which are much less calorie dense than other foods. Eat bread made from whole grains rather than from refined flour. Food that contains fiber takes more work to digest and will keep you feeling full longer.

  1. Move!

For most seniors, the lack of structured exercise leads to weight gain. Many are also dealing with physical disabilities, further compounding the fitness challenge. According to the National Institutes of Health, seniors who stay active have more energy, improve their balance, enhance joint health, prevent serious health problems, and stay independent longer because they are stronger and more mobile.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two types of exercise each week to improve health: aerobics – any activity that raises the heart rate and facilitates movement for a sustained time – and muscle strengthening. Surveys show, however, that less than one-third of Americans over the age of 65 are following these guidelines.

Activities should also include flexibility exercises and relaxation techniques, such as yoga. Yoga combines physical exercise with focused breathing, helping manage stress, improving flexibility, and enhancing mental health. An increasingly popular senior activity is “chair yoga” – exercises that can be done without getting on the floor.

  1. Maximize the mental benefits 

Exercise has a strong psychological component. It can be a powerful antidote to depression because it releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers that help ward off negative thoughts and create a sense of overall well-being. 

Group exercise can also counteract loneliness, providing opportunities for companionship and social connection. Studies find that feelings of loneliness are experienced regularly by more than 40 percent of seniors.   

  1. Make the right choice in a service provider

If you’re searching for a senior living community for you or your loved one, look for a wellness-focused provider that offers integrated health, nutrition, and physical fitness services as part of its care program. The following checklist can serve as a simple guide.

Does the provider offer:

  • Low-fat, nutrient-rich food options?
  • Exercise programs for seniors of all physical abilities?
  • Rehab fitness for residents in transitional care?
  • Special fitness programs for seniors with memory issues?
  • Wellness education programs, teaching residents the facts of staying fit and providing the tools to develop healthy behaviors?

In summary, make sure the provider you choose has an abiding philosophy of wellness, helping seniors continue to grow, change, and optimize their health – in body, mind, and spirit.

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Seniors and Obesity: Four Steps to Reverse an Alarming Trend