Being a healthy weight is important for good health at any age. In the ageing population, a risk of malnutrition has been recognised in as many as 1 in 7 older people; the prevalence is even higher in people who are living in institutions. Being underweight and/or malnourished increases the risk of disease, delays recovery from illness and adversely affects body function, wellbeing and clinical outcome.
However, there are also risks associated with excess bodyweight. Survey data suggests that a large proportion of older people are obese or overweight; 67% of free-living men and 63% of free-living women; and 46% of men and 47% of women living in institutions. Carrying excess weight, particularly around the waist, increases the risk of a number of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Older people are at an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes if their waist circumference is:
- Men - over 94cm (substantially increased risk over 102cm)
Women - over 80cm (substantially increased risk over 88cm)
The cut-offs are lower for Asian people: a waist circumference of more than 80 cm is a problem for a South Asian woman and 90cm for a South Asian man.
More tips of healthy weight loss can be found here.
Regular physical activity benefits people of all ages including older people. It is important for maintaining a healthy weight by improving energy balance. Physical activities such as strength training that may increase muscle size, increase resting metabolic rate and therefore increase energy expenditure.
Physical activity also provides additional benefits to older people. The Department of Health recommends that adults (including older adults) in the UK do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity at least five times a week to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and some cancers. Longer periods of activity may be required for weight control. Depending on the type of physical activity chosen, participation may provide some social interaction which can have a positive impact on quality of life. Keeping active also helps older people maintain mobility and therefore maintain their independence, which is very important for self esteem. Older people are encouraged to do activities that promote and improve balance, strength and coordination. These are particularly important for maintaining good bone and joint health and for reducing the risk of falls.
More tips on keeping active as you age can be found here.
Last reviewed July 2009. Revised February 2016. Next review due June 2013