As we age, keeping excess weight off becomes more and more difficult. This is mainly because a natural part of aging is a gradual slowing down of your metabolism, which is the process of converting calories from food into energy. This slowdown can be blamed on several factors but is mainly due to hormonal changes that occur with age. Plus, your pituitary gland produces less growth hormone, which means you lose muscle mass. And it’s your muscles that convert the most calories into energy.
It’s important to maintain a healthy weight because excess fat tissue does a lot of damage, the most dangerous of which is causing diabetes and heart disease. Also, losing even 10 or 15 pounds can improve your quality of life because you’re simply more comfortable physically. Imagine putting 15 pounds of rocks in a backpack and walking around for awhile with it strapped to your back. Can you imagine how out of breath you’d be? Can you feel your ankles, your knees, and your hips throbbing?
Today, people are living longer and enjoying active lifestyles into their 80s and 90s. In fact, you’ve probably seen them walking around in a nearby park or shopping mall, right? Now ask yourself, how many of them were severely overweight? The research is clear that maintaining a healthy weight by eating well and doing moderate exercise makes a substantial difference in the quality of life for seniors.
Making a plan and sticking to it
First, let’s talk about how calories work, starting with the calorie-consumption side of the equation. When you hear people say that there are about 100 calories in a banana, they’re talking about how much energy that banana can give you. Over the course of a day, all the food you eat provides calories, along with many other nutrients, to fuel your body’s activity.
Now, let’s talk about calorie-burning, the opposite side of the equation. Every single thing your body does – which includes any exercise you do, as well as all of your other bodily functions, like breathing, pumping blood through your circulation system, even thinking – burns calories. If you want to lose weight, the best thing you can do is burn more calories than you consume. If, however, you do the opposite and consume more calories than you burn, those calories are converted to fat and stored in your body and that’s how you gain weight.
So, going back to our example of a 100-calorie banana, this means you simply have to burn 100 calories through exercise to make sure that banana doesn’t cause you to gain weight. And for someone who weighs 150 pounds, that means taking a leisurely walk for 40 to 45 minutes.
Once you start thinking about how much exercise it takes to burn off all the calories in certain foods, it makes you perceive food differently. For example, some fast-food cheeseburgers may have up to 800 calories. And, even though it may be delicious, that same 150-pound person would have to jump rope at a fast pace for an entire hour to burn it off.
Suddenly, that cheeseburger doesn’t sound as appealing, does it?
As you get older, it becomes even more important to stick to a healthy diet that has fewer calories but more nutrients, especially protein. Seafood, lean meats, poultry, and eggs are good sources of protein. Balance that with a variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and beans, as well as whole grains, like oatmeal, whole grain bread, and brown rice.
Most important, minimize your intake of foods that are loaded with calories but provide very few nutrients, like sugary snacks and drinks, foods cooked with butter and shortening, and refined white starches like white bread, pasta, and potatoes.
These tips will help you keep the weight off so you can stay active, reduce pain and discomfort, and enjoy life during your golden years.