It may be harder than when you were younger, but local nutrition and fitness experts say that, with a healthy diet and a fitness plan, we each can maintain our weight.
“Our bodies do change,” says Christy Frese, a registered dietitian at the Edgewood Road Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids. “We start to lose muscle mass as we age, and this can affect our shape and metabolism slightly. However, our lifestyle choices are what seem to have the biggest impact on our weight.”
What can be difficult, says Frese, is changing our habits, such as reducing portion sizes, being more active, getting enough sleep and including a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains on our plates.
Frese says aging adults should focus on nutrient-dense foods. “We don’t need as much energy to fuel our body as we age, so thinking about making choices that offer fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can be helpful,” she says. Fruits and vegetables, yogurt, milk, cheese, whole grains, nuts, eggs and lean cuts of meat, poultry and fish are all good choices.
Julie Seckman, a clinical nutritionist at Wholistic Wellness in Hiawatha, says she works with more and more clients who come in wanting to avoid being put on prescription medication to treat conditions like high cholesterol. “People are becoming more responsible for their own health and want to feel better. And I always tell people, the quickest and cheapest way to feel better is to fix your diet and get enough sleep.”
Both experts agree that creating an individualized nutrition plan is essential because we each have different likes and dislikes and different lifestyles.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” Frese says. “Each person needs to set their own realistic goals for lifestyle changes with the help of their health care team, such as physicians, dietitians and physical therapists.” For example, at Hy-Vee you can take a supermarket tour with a dietitian.
Fitness experts remind middle-aged and older adults that weight management comes from combining a healthy diet with a fitness routine.
“Ultimately, weight gain occurs when one consumes more calories than they expend,” says Rachel Wall, a registered dietitian and nutrition and health specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. “As adults age, they need fewer calories. So if a 70-year old person is eating the same calories they did when they were 30, without a change in physical activity, weight gain will result.”
Wall says older adults should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow. “It is important individuals choose physical activities that are appropriate for their current fitness level and even consult their health care provider to determine which types of activity are appropriate and safe given your current health status.”
“There are no hard rules because every individual is different — because of their current fitness, history, health, goals, etc.,” says Brenda Cloud, fitness program manager at the Rockwell Collins Recreation Center in Cedar Rapids. “I suggest they meet with a fitness professional who has a certification and experience to help them develop a plan.”
Cloud believes in the “keep moving, to keep moving on” mantra. “Find an activity that you enjoy and that provides physical benefits to you,” she says. “The clients I train do feel better by working out consistently. If they have too many days off, they admit they don’t feel as good.”
Of course, exercise not only helps you maintain your weight, but can benefit your health in other ways, too. “Maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce the risk of certain diseases,” says Cloud. “It is also saving wear and tear on joints so that people can remain active.”
Wall agrees, noting that in older adults, physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk for early death, and lower the risk for many chronic conditions including stroke, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. “Physical activity also reduces depression and lowers the risk for falls.”
Whether you develop a fitness routine on your own, or decide to participate in a group fitness setting, which Cloud says “provides camaraderie and accountability,” it is important to choose what works best for you and your aging body.
This article originally appeared in the “Getting Older? Get Healthy” special section in The Gazette on Oct. 20.