Healthy Weight For Seniors
Toni Lynn Davis, MHA, CNHA, FACHCA
CEO/President Green Hill Inc.
There are varying thoughts in the healthcare community about how to judge a health body weight for our elders. Factors to consider include BMI, body mass index which measures the fat to muscle ratio of your body. Weight in pounds in relation to one’s height may be a determining factor. Along with body type, bottom heavy versus middle section weight, the apple versus pear debate of weight and health. It is debated as to whether or not seniors should carry a ‘few extra pounds’ as a standard practice to protect them from expected weight loss during age related illnesses.
‘A Yale study conducted in 2001 using the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s U.S. Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults found no correlation between seniors who were mildly overweight and increased mortality rates. In fact, study participants labeled overweight had lower mortality rates than those in the acceptable range, suggesting that the ideal weight for seniors, as measured by BMI, is perhaps too restrictive.’ www.livestrong.com
As we age we lose muscle mass that can be replaced with stored fat, that naturally increases as we get older. This is due to lower metabolism reduced physical exercise and reduced muscle stimulation. In addition, varying medical conditions, physical limitations, and prescription medications can affect weight and metabolism in older adults.
Strictly reducing caloric intake in cases of severely ‘overweight’ seniors is not healthy for their body or emotions. A bounty of healthy food options that boost nutrition, and a physical exercise plan, is more effective in providing seniors with an overall healthy approach to a body weight that is appropriate for them. A healthy diet can also reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, anemia and other illnesses. A food plan full of vitamins and minerals, leafy greens, veggies, nuts, whole grains and lean proteins can help keep the mind sharp and provide seniors with a general sense of well being that can’t be matched by the energy ups and downs created by processed carbohydrates, and refined sugars. Seniors may use lots of interesting spices in food preparation, and at the table, but it is important to keep added salt levels very low to control blood pressure.
The National Institute of Aging recommends that woman over 50 years of age who are active ingest approximately 2000 calories a day. Moderately active women to eat 1800 calories and not at all active, 1600 calories per day. Men over 50 who are active need approximately 2500 calories per day, moderately active men require 2300 calories per day and not active, 2000 calories per day.
My experience leading a senior long-term care facility is that our more common challenge, rather than helping our senior to lower their weight, is keeping the weight of our seniors up to healthy levels. As seniors age so do their taste buds. At Green Hill we engage professional chefs experienced in tantalizing the senior palate with well-flavored and nutritious dishes that are both familiar and exciting. We create a mealtime focused in dining room, or home-style settings that create stimulating social experiences around food. Daily exercise classes to maintain good bone health, muscle mass and metabolism is also provided. Our Director of Nutritional Services works with each resident and/or their families on nutritional plans that maintain or improve their physical health.
The best way to maintain a healthy weight is to fill up at each meal with healthy foods. Stay away from hidden sugars and saturated fats except for rare special occasions. Exercise in some way daily whether it’s a walk with a friend or an age appropriate exercise class. Be mindful of how your clothes fit you. If they start getting tight, reduce the size of the servings your are taking and eat a little less. If your clothes start getting loose, be sure to eat healthy foods more often during the day increasing your caloric intake. Be aware of your eating patterns, especially if you have experienced a recent life changing event. You might also talk to your healthcare provider about how the medications your are taking may, or may not be affecting your weight.
A healthy body weight is important at any age. Make focusing on the health of your body and that of your loved one your resolution this year.