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Study Reveals Best Combination of Diet and Exercise for Obese Seniors

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If someone you love is a senior with a weight problem, your loved one is facing a dilemma – and it’s probably making your role as a caregiver more difficult. Your loved one needs to lose weight, but dieting can have the adverse effect of making them even more frail. But now there’s a new study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine that answers the question, “What’s the best combination of diet and exercise for older adults who are overweight?”

We ran across this very helpful article on the website HealthDay. This study, conducted by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, demonstrated that a combination of two different types of exercise along with dieting to lose weight produced the best outcomes for overweight seniors. The key appears to be a combination of aerobic exercise and what health scientists call “resistance” exercise. “Engaging in aerobic and resistance exercise while losing weight,” says HealthDay writer Kathleen Doheny, “enabled study participants to maintain more muscle mass and bone density compared to folks who did just one type of exercise or none at all, the researchers found.” The research leaders described this method as “the best way” to improve function and reverse the problems of physical frailty.

First, how severe is the problem of overweight seniors? Sadly, weight problems among the elderly have reached epidemic proportions. Doheny writes that “More than one-third of people age 65 and older in the United States are obese, according to the study authors.” But simply losing weight is not the answer. “Obesity worsens the typical age-related decline in physical functioning and causes frailty, while weight loss can lead to harmful declines in muscle mass and bone density.” That’s why this research by Baylor is so important: doctors wanted to determine the combination of diet and exercise that produces the best outcomes among seniors.

To design the study, they took 160 adults age 65-plus, all of whom were described as obese and sedentary, and divided them into four groups. One did a combination of weight loss and aerobic training (including treadmill walking, stationary cycling and stair climbing). The second group combined weight loss and resistance training (involving upper-body and lower-body exercises on weight-lifting machines). The third group combined weight loss with both types of exercise while the fourth group – the control group – neither dieted nor exercised. The results, say the study authors were clear. After six months, the group who combined both types of exercise saw an increase of more than 20 percent in their physical performance test scores, compared with 14 percent improvement for the segment who only engaged in one form of exercise. The combination group also enjoyed better bone density and lean body mass than their counterparts. (Study participants exercised three times per week for 75-90 minutes per session.)

Experts in aging were quick to praise the study because it showed a clear comparison among several different health regimens. As one doctor observed, while many studies of obese or overweight older adults focus only on exercise and weight loss, this study concentrated on what really matters: living a healthy lifestyle that allows seniors to function the way they want to for as long as they want to. “Health in aging is really [about] functioning,” said Miriam Nelson from the University of New Hampshire. If a senior wants to remain active, mobile and functional, he or she needs to maintain muscle strength and bone density, and to take off excess weight. “All these multiple factors are what dictate to a large extent somebody’s ability to be independent, healthy and to live life to its fullest as they age,” Nelson added.

Here at AgingOptions we would add our “amen” to these words. If you want to avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones as you age, it only makes sense to do all you can to preserve your health to the maximum extent possible. No, we can’t control every contingency – but there are somethings you and I can control, and making healthy choices when it comes to diet and exercise is one of them. If you are a senior dealing with the health consequences of being overweight, or if that describes someone in your family, it’s never too late to start regaining your health, but as this article suggests, diet alone cannot be the answer. There’s a right way and a wrong way for seniors to exercise and lose weight, so we suggest you read the HealthDay article and take its recommendations to heart. Better still, contact us here at AgingOptions and let us refer you to a geriatrician in your area – a health care professional trained in the unique needs of senior adults. It’s the best way we know of to make sure you’re getting health care advice that’s right for you.

The best way we know to get retirement advice that’s right for you is by attending one of our AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminars. Here you’ll discover the unique power of the type of retirement plan we call a LifePlan – one that combines all aspects of retirement living into one comprehensive blueprint: financial planning, medical protection, housing options, legal safeguards and family communication. There’s nothing like a LifePlan from AgingOptions to help you enjoy a retirement that is safe, secure and fruitful. And here’s even better news: you can find out about the power of a LifePlan absolutely free, simply by investing a few hours and attending a LifePlanning Seminar near you. Click here for dates, times, and locations. Then you can register online or contact us for assistance during the week. Get the facts, and build the retirement of your dreams, with an AgingOptions LifePlan.

(originally reported at

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