Most of us know that being overweight can increase certain health risks for people of all ages. According to the Surgeon General, for people of all ages, extra pounds could mean increased risk for heart disease (the biggest killer of both men and women), certain types of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and more. But someone trying to lose weight at age 50 has different needs than a 30 year old trying to do the same. Fortunately, there are age-specific steps everyone can take to help them stay healthy and reach their weight-loss goals.
"The good news is that you can turn your life and health around, and this can occur at any age," says Bill McArdle, exercise physiologist for Weight Watchers International.
Luckily, a modest weight loss through good dietary and exercise habits can positively impact your risk for these conditions, according to Jessica Smerling, RD, corporate program development specialist for Weight Watchers. "In addition, losing weight can help improve symptoms for those who may already have these conditions."
So whether you're barely 30 or well past 40, you can build a long, healthy life starting today.
At Any Age...
Risk of chronic diseases can be decreased with similar steps. In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, no matter how old you are, you should:
1. Eat a variety of foods, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables.
2. Choose whole grains over processed grains and foods with added sugars.
3. Choose fish, lean meats and poultry. Limit processed meats, especially from high-fat sources.
4. Aim to get in 30 or more minutes of moderate exercise most days if you're trying to maintain a healthy weight; more if you're trying to lose.
In Your Thirties…
As many people "settle down" in their thirties, they may start to notice one of the less desirable signs of adulthood: an expanding waistline. How can this be when your life seems busier than ever? According to McArdle, the widening responsibilities of job and family often mean you have less free time to focus on regular exercise and eating healthy foods.
Carrying extra weight at this age can affect not only personal health, but it can also affect the ability of both women and men to conceive a child. And, women who are overweight during pregnancy have an increased risk of miscarriage, hypertension, gestational diabetes, cesarean section and more difficulties with delivery. In these cases, the baby also has an increased risk of having higher birth weight and neural tube defects and being admitted to the intensive care unit.
If you find your weight creeping up, look for small ways to move more (take the stairs, park a few blocks from work) or get back in touch with a sport you enjoyed as a teen. If you are trying to conceive, be sure your diet includes enough folate—a deficiency increases your risk of having a premature baby or a baby with low birth weight or neural tube defects. You can get it from a multivitamin, fortified cereals, enriched rice and vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and asparagus. And all women in this age group should also be sure to get enough calcium (1,000 mg per day), from supplements or nonfat dairy. Bone density peaks in the thirties, so now is the time to build strong bones.
Career, marriage and kids mean a substantial change in lifestyle in your thirties. Now is the time to make a commitment to exercise before bad habits set in. If you find it hard to fit in fitness, McArdle suggests replacing coffee breaks or your evening beer with exercise breaks. "Be systematic," he says. "Set aside certain times during the day to exercise." You can even jump rope during commercials. "Or, if you're a big burger fan, try eliminating the fries and perhaps saying no to cheese," says Smerling.
In Your Forties...
Just when you think you've got yourself all figured out, something perplexing happens in your forties: Your metabolism starts to slow down. After age 45, the average person loses about 10 percent of their muscle mass each decade. As you lose muscle, you burn fewer calories, but if you're still eating the same amount of food, you'll see gains on the scale. Understanding this concept may help you keep the pounds—and the disease risks that come with them—at bay.
One solution to the metabolism problem is to eat fewer calories, says Smerling. "Also, several studies show that resistance (i.e. weight) training can help boost metabolism, while newer research suggests that endurance (i.e. aerobic) exercise may help offset a decrease in metabolism with age," she says. To maintain and build muscle with resistance training, McArdle recommends doing a set of 8 to 10 exercises that work the chest, upper and lower back, arms, shoulders, abdomen and upper and lower legs twice a week. Starting in your forties, you should also be getting annual mammograms and clinical breast exams, and doing a self breast exam every month.
Start eating smaller portions; it's the key to avoiding an increase in body fat. To accommodate a decline in muscle mass, increase metabolism by taking part in resistance training and physical activity. At this age, heart disease and diabetes start to become more of a real threat, especially if your lifestyle has not been healthy up to this point. Follow the smart eating and exercise steps above to control cardiac risk factors and defend against diabetes. Things to avoid:
- Saturated and Trans Fats: These include whole-fat dairy products, fatty meats and cookies and snack foods made with partially hydrogenated oils. Decrease your intake of them to minimize your heart disease risk.
- Salt: Limit it to lower your blood pressure.
- Refined starches and added sugars: Eat them less often as they offer little nutritional benefit.
In Your Fifties...
Paying attention to health and fitness can really pay off in your fifties, as your risk for heart disease, diabetes and many cancers goes up simply because you're getting older. (More than 90 percent of people with colon cancer, for instance, are diagnosed after age 50, according to the National Cancer Institute.)
If you haven't already, now is the time to talk to your doctor about an appropriate screening schedule for things like colon, prostate and breast cancers and osteoporosis. You also need to stay on top of your cholesterol and blood pressure levels. A number of mounting health risks can be improved through good diet and exercise. If you're overweight, don't get discouraged. First, aim to stop gaining, then work on losing—even 10 percent of your body weight can make a difference.
The fifties bring another weight-related challenge for women: menopause. The average woman gains about 5 to 7 pounds during this time and tends to add those pounds around the waist, which is linked to increased cardiovascular health risks. In addition, "the risk of osteoporosis accelerates dramatically at the onset of menopause, so exercise (particularly weight-bearing exercise like jogging) and adequate calcium and vitamin D intake is crucial," say McArdle.
Need another reason to exercise? "A study of nearly 122,000 women found that exercising at least one hour daily reduced breast cancer risk by 20 percent, with a greater risk reduction for postmenopausal women," he says.
One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, regardless of weight. But once diagnosed, overweight and obese men's risk of dying from the disease is 25 to 50 percent higher than normal-weight men. "Losing excess weight," says Smerling, "has been shown to help prevent recurrence of prostate cancer and allows for more accurate screenings."
If pesky back problems or painful joints are keeping you out of the gym, McArdle suggests trying non-weight-bearing exercises such as stationary cycling, water aerobics, swimming and light resistance exercises. "These activities work major muscle groups in a weight-supported form of exercise. They are also excellent for burning calories and provide many of the same health-related exercise benefits as their weight-bearing counterparts."
Regardless of your age, Weight Watchers has tips to help you live a healthy lifestyle.