Both overweight and underweight can be a problem in the elderly. And malnutrition is also lurking. What is a healthy weight for seniors and how do you achieve that?
Healthy weight: BMI & waist circumference
To determine whether you are underweight or overweight, the BMI (body mass index) is often used as a guideline. You can calculate your BMI here. But note: the BMI can give a distorted image in people over 70. This is due to the loss of bone and muscle tissue and a different distribution of fat throughout the body. The BMI also does not take gender into account where the fat is. That is why, as a supplement to the BMI, we recommend that you check whether your waist circumference is healthy. Is your BMI and / or waist circumference too high or too low? Always consult the doctor first before taking any action yourself.
Overweight in the elderly
For older people over 70, the advice to lose weight only applies to a BMI above 30 (seriously overweight). If you want to lose weight, it is wise to first visit the doctor or dietician. Especially when you want to lose more than a few pounds. This can also entail risks at a later age.
The main cause of being overweight is eating too much (unhealthy) and exercising too little. In addition, those who start to get heavier often end up in a vicious circle. Because of the extra weight, you move less, because that is more tiring.
Reasons for being overweight:
Moving less reduces muscle mass. This makes the metabolism slower and the energy requirement decreases.
Women produce less estrogen after the transition, which slows the metabolism. So even if you eat the same and exercise as much as before, you still arrive.
Why lose weight? Risks of being overweight
Long-term obesity is a risk to your health. People who are overweight are tired more quickly during physical exertion and often have problems with their joints. Especially the knees, back and hips wear out faster due to the extra weight they have to bear.
Complaints such as varicose veins, diabetes, thrombosis and arteriosclerosis are also more common in overweight people. In addition, overweight people are more at risk for cardiovascular disease because they often have high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The longer the period of being overweight, the greater the health risks.
A healthy weight is important to prevent all kinds of diseases, including cardiovascular problems. According to many studies, especially fat around the abdomen increases the risk, the so-called apple figure. In addition, being overweight is an important risk factor for uterine cancer and the risk of breast cancer after the transition increases with overweight.
The risks of losing weight
Losing weight also brings risks for seniors:
When losing weight, you not only lose fat, but often also some muscle. This causes the muscle strength to decline, which increases the chance of falling. Exercising during weight loss, in particular strength training, helps to prevent muscle and therefore loss of strength.
Bones become less strong during weight loss. This increases the chance of fractures. Continuing to move can decrease this effect. Do choose activities where you carry your own weight such as walking or strength training.
- Swimming and cycling are less suitable to keep the bones strong.
- If you eat much less to lose weight you have a chance of deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals.
Advice: Whether you have senior health insurance or you’re going for it. we always prefer to consult with your doctor first before you start losing weight.
Underweight and malnutrition in the elderly
Elderly people over 65 are underweight with a BMI of less than 20. Malnutrition can be the cause of this. But people of normal weight and even overweight can also be malnourished. There is a risk of malnutrition if someone has eaten little or no food for 3 days or eats more than a week less than usual. With acute loss of nutrients due to vomiting or diarrhea, the nutritional status can deteriorate quickly, especially if someone has a higher energy requirement due to illness or fever. If you lose a lot of weight in a short time without apparent reason, it is best to see your doctor.
Causes underweight and malnutrition
Whereas ‘younger’ seniors are primarily at risk of becoming overweight, ‘older’ seniors (people over 70) are particularly at risk of underweight and malnutrition. Underweight occurs when the amount of energy that someone receives through eating and drinking is longer than the body consumes (burns). Underweight is relatively common among the elderly in care institutions and hospitals and among the sick.
An unhealthy low body weight can be a result of malnutrition: a lack of energy, protein and other nutrients. There are various reasons for this:
- Digestive problems. Nutrients and vitamins such as proteins, glucose, calcium and iron are less well absorbed.
- Chewing and swallowing problems can reinforce this.
- Decreased appetite, for example due to reduced sense of taste and smell, an illness or lack of exercise. Loneliness and depression can also cause a loss of appetite.
Why arrive? Risks of underweight and malnutrition
Too low a weight due to unintended weight loss can be a health risk: there may be a shortage of nutrients, the condition may deteriorate or someone will become listless and tired sooner. The body uses reserve supplies from fat and muscle tissue. This causes the fat and muscle tissue to break down. The breakdown of muscle tissue is particularly disadvantageous. Moreover, if the underweight persists for a long time, the risk of fractures increases.
Malnutrition also leads to a slower recovery after surgery or an illness, more or more serious complications and less muscle mass.
As a result, the condition and the heart and lung capacity deteriorate. The shortage of energy and nutrients reduces the functioning of the immune system and ensures a less good wound healing. In addition, malnutrition increases the risk of bedsores (pressure ulcers). Especially with illness malnutrition can be fatal for the elderly.