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A Healthy Weight for Life

Some older adults fall into a cycle of poor eating, first becoming overweight and then becoming inactive – both factors for increased cancer risk. Here’s how to reverse that cycle.

“Taking small steps toward being fit and active can improve your ability to perform daily living activities and help manage chronic health conditions, including certain types of cancer,” says Rose Clifford, RD, LD, MBA, Nutrition Consultant at Iona Senior Services in Washington, DC.

Maintaining a healthy weight is key, Cliffords explains. Sudden or unexpected weight gain may indicate a serious medical condition such as heart disease. Carrying extra weight is also linked to a higher risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. But unintentional or sudden weight loss can lead to bone or muscle loss. “That can cause immobility and insufficient nutrition,” she adds.

Delicious and Nutritious

Our calorie needs decline by an average of at least 100 calories per decade starting in our 30s, according to some studies – although that number varies according to amount of physical activity and other individual factors. But eating nutritious, minimally processed foods can be satisfying and lower in calories, she says.

How? Instead of counting calories, simply set a goal to eat 2-3 cups of vegetables and 11/2 - 2 cups of fruit each day:

  • Make a fruit smoothie for breakfast.
  • Eat vegetables at lunch so you don’t have to fit them all in at dinner.
  • Fill up on vegetables and fruits instead of chips, sweets and other unhealthy foods.
  • Focus on what foods to eat, rather than what not to eat.

Protein is also key. Research now tells us that older adults need more protein than younger adults do. Clifford recommends eating 30 grams of protein at every meal to boost muscle mass and strength.

  • At breakfast, opt for eggs, peanut butter or low-fat dairy foods such as Greek yogurt.
  • At lunch and dinner, select lean meats, fish and chicken, plus nuts and beans (see article on
  • pages 6-7).
  • Read nutrition labels to find highprotein breakfast cereals (with 8 grams or more protein per serving) and other whole grains.
  • Choose milk or soy milk over fruit juice.

Exercise Is Essential

Muscle mass and strength decline more rapidly with aging, a condition known as sarcopenia. Seniors are at particular risk for developing sarcopenic obesity, a combination of being overweight and frail. “Less muscle strength makes physical activity more difficult, which leads to further muscle loss and weakness,” Clifford explains.

To break this cycle, she advocates a combination of strengthening and aerobic exercise (like walking, which raises your heart rate). It’s best to get at least 30 minutes of daily moderate aerobic exercise. Strength training should be done for at least 20-30 minutes, three times per week.

“Start with something specific so that it becomes a habit,” she urges. For example, walk for 15 minutes after a meal a few days a week. After this becomes easier, walk every day for a longer period of time and at a faster pace.

“Maintaining a healthy weight by eating well and staying active will increase your independence and quality of life,” she says.

AICR Newsletter 118, Winter 2013

Published on February 26, 2013

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