Study finds age is no barrier to successful weight loss

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We are rapidly approaching the time when a great deal of the population will commit to a New Year’s resolution aiming to lose weight in 2021, but if you are thinking of using your age as an excuse, you may want to think again.

A new study from the University of Warwick has found that age does not present a barrier to successful weight loss and that those over 60 are able to lose weight just as easily as their younger counterparts.

According to the research, obese patients over the age of 60 can lose an equivalent amount of weight to that of younger people, using only lifestyle changes.

The researchers hope that their findings will correct misconceptions about the effectiveness of weight loss programs for older people and dispel myths about older adults trying to reduce their weight.

The researchers randomly selected 242 patients of an obesity service between 2005 and 2016 and compared those under 60 years of age to those aged between 60 and 78 for the weight loss they achieved during their time with the service.

All patients had their body weight measured both before and after lifestyle interventions and the percentage reduction in body weight calculated across both groups.

When compared, the two groups were equivalent statistically, with those aged 60 years and over on average reducing their body weight by 7.3 per cent compared with a body weight reduction of 6.9 per cent in those aged under 60 years. 

Both groups spent a similar amount of time within the obesity service, on average 33.6 months for those 60 years and over, and 41.5 months for those younger than 60 years.

The hospital-based weight loss program used only lifestyle changes such as dietary changes, psychological support and encouragement of physical activity.

Study author Dr Thomas Barber said weight loss was more important as people started ageing.

“Weight loss is important at any age, but as we get older we’re more likely to develop the weight-related co-morbidities of obesity,” Dr Barber said. “Many of these are similar to the effects of ageing, so you could argue that the relevance of weight loss becomes heightened as we get older, and this is something that we should embrace.

“There are a number of reasons why people may discount weight loss in older people. These include an ‘ageist’ perspective that weight loss is not relevant to older people and misconceptions of reduced ability of older people to lose weight through dietary modification and increased exercise.

“Rather than putting up barriers to older people accessing weight loss programs, we should be proactively facilitating that process. To do otherwise would risk further and unnecessary neglect of older people through societal ageist misconceptions.”

According to recently released physical activity guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO), older adults should do at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week or at least 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week.

Older adults (aged 65 years or older) are advised to add activities that emphasise balance and coordination, as well as muscle strengthening, to help prevent falls and improve health.

What New Year’s resolutions are you making for next year? Are you planning to try to lose weight? What are your plans to achieve this goal?

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Written by Ben


Total Comments: 9
  1. 1

    HHmmm I’m not obese, but I’m finding it is definitely harder, bordering on impossible (for a female) to lose weight once you reach menopause. I’ve never in my whole life had trouble managing my weight & was always 52kg’s until around 5yrs ago (I’m 59) & although my job is very active (12hr shifts) & I workout (& take brisk 3-5km walks on beach on my days off) pretty much every day as well I’m fatter than I had always been my whole life (& my diet is much improved in the last 5yrs compared to what it was previously). All articles I’ve read (apart from this one) claim it is normal for women to gain weight or have trouble managing it, so I’m not sure about the accuracy of this research??? Mind you I’m not going to give up trying to manage my physical & mental health as this is more of a focus for me than the weight/fat factor!>

    • 1

      Menopause is a convenient excuse, but that’s all it is, an excuse. One of the more hidden aspects of aging is Sarcopenia i.e. progressive muscle loss. It can result in 50% muscle loss between the 40s and 80s. This happens faster in women than men (because men generally have more muscle to begin with) but it happens to everyone. What this means is that weight can be maintained but the composition between fat and metabolic tissue (muscle and bone) changes. With this change you may find that exercise regimens that served you well in the past, no longer have the same effect – partly due to the sarcopenia and partly due to the fact that the body adapts to the same exercise over time and becomes far more efficient at it meaning it uses less energy to do the same thing. So the solution is actually quite easy, you have to change the exercise. If you have always been active it doesn’t mean do more, it means do something that makes the body work harder, e.g. lift weights, jog instead of brisk walk (yes even over 60), add balance specific exercises etc.

      But exercise is only a part of the solution. You may not believe it but we actually need more protein as we age not less. But we tend to not bother with proper meals as often especially if it just for one person. The result of this is malnutrition even in people of normal weight. How to change things? Well obviously a trip to a dietitian is best in the first place, but looking hard at everything you eat is easily done.

      Ultimately we should be working for fat loss not simply weight loss which may in fact be muscle loss which you certainly don’t want.

  2. 1

    i turned 60 last June , in the last year Ive lost 30kg unfortunately my skin doesnt spring back like it used to

  3. 1

    All good but over 55’s are more likely to have musculoskeletal issues such as arthritis, making brisk exercise painful plus also more likely to have Type 2 diabetes which changes metabolism and is even dangerous to reduce calorie intake with a risk of hypoglycaemia. The people in this study must be in pretty good shape health wise to lose weight so significantly, but take a random sample of older people from all walks of life and the results would definitely not be so rosy

    • 1

      Whilst not dismissing these chronic diseases, the facts are that exercise will help these not make them worse. Baker IDI in Melbourne devised a progressive weight training program especially for type two diabetics and found that the regular and progressive weight training actually reduced the high blood fluctuations and did a better job of it than aerobic exercise usually encouraged. Hypoglycaemia is actually a rare event, the fear of it is far more common!

      As for arthritis, exercise have been proven to alleviate symptoms and ease pain. Look up Paul Lam and what he has achieved with using Tai Chi with even severe arthritis patients. Check out what Arthritis Australia has to say about exercise and arthritis.

      And just for good measure, even the frail elderly can gain benefits (and often greater benefits) than people half their age especially after perhaps decades of doing nothing to very little. There are exercise specialists in this area, find an exercise physiologist and get advice no matter what the condition is. There is always something we can do. We just choose not to.

  4. 0

    An annual fast of between 3-7 days is always beneficial, and what better time than after the festive season with all those indulgences that are not the best for our health.

    • 0

      Short term fasting can be beneficial for some , but fasting for 3-7 days is not recommended for everyone. Get medical advice from your health practitioner first especially if you take medications of any kind.

  5. 0

    I found the solution. At 66 and 76 respectively myself and my husband bought a 5 acre property. Weight gone and no trouble maintaining it. Exercise for free!

  6. 1

    I agree with your article and do need to lose some weight – would it be possible to give us some relevant exercises for over 70 year olds. I use my exercise bike but do need something extra



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