As we age, it can become increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy weight. While there are many reasons for this – a slower metabolism, changing hormone levels, decreased lipid turnover in fat tissues, and declining muscle mass – the risks associated with being overweight in our 50s should make us cautious of putting on pounds.
It’s not just a matter of vanity, excess weight is directly related to a number of health conditions that seriously impair our quality of life. Being overweight can even decrease the number of years we live for. Moderate obesity – a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 to 35 – can reduce life expectancy by as much as 3 years, while severe obesity – 40 to 50 BMI – can take a whole decade from your life.
Weight plays a role in our health and quality of life just as surely as genetics do. As we age, we often become less active which makes it easier for us to put on weight. However, excess weight increases our chances of developing some diseases, regardless of our genes.
Type 2 Diabetes
The most common form of diabetes, diabetes type 2, is heavily influenced by diet, exercise, and weight. Weight, fat distribution, and inactivity are the three top risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes.
Being overweight leads to an excess of nutrients in our system, which puts stress on our individual cells. When the membranous network inside of cells has more nutrients to process than it can handle, it sends out a distress call to the insulin receptors on the cell’s surface to increase resistance to insulin. This in turn leads to higher blood sugar levels and, if the situation continues, type 2 diabetes can easily develop.
Type 2 diabetes can make us far more likely to experience further health complications too. Mismanaged diabetes can lead to nerve damage, kidney disease, eye damage, and hearing difficulties. Once someone has developed type 2 diabetes, it is important to adopt and maintain a healthy diet.
Coronary Heart Disease
Obesity contributes to heart disease in a number of different ways. Firstly, being overweight sparks a change in our cholesterol and triglyceride levels by causing ‘bad’ artery-clogging cholesterol to rise. It also lowers good high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol which work to lower our bad cholesterol.
Secondly, when we have more weight, our body needs more energy, oxygen, and higher blood pressure to push this supply around our circulatory system. The higher blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, simply because our heart is having to work so hard to supply our bodies with the oxygen and nutrients.
Finally, being overweight not only increases the fat we can feel, but also raises our visceral fat – the fat that sits around our middle, heart, and internal organs. This puts more strain on your heart and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and artery disease.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that’s common in overweight people in their 50s. This sleep disorder causes people to stop breathing for ten seconds or more while they sleep. Often accompanied by loud snoring, gasping, and waking a lot through the night, people with sleep apnea often wake to feel tired and unrefreshed.
They may also have difficulty concentrating, poor memory, and can also experience a loss of sex drive. Many people with sleep apnea may not even be aware they have it, as it doesn’t always disturb sleep enough to cause people to fully awaken.
Obstructive sleep apnea can make it difficult to lose weight as it disrupts our sleep cycle, preventing our bodies from fully restoring and repairing while we sleep. This throws our two appetite hormones, leptin and ghrelin into disarray. These two hormones influence how hungry we feel and can make it difficult to make healthy food choices.
Sleep is essential for so many of our body’s functions. Not getting enough sleep each night has been shown to have links with various types of dementia, the development of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and is generally a precursor for poorer quality of life.
A growing number of cancers have been linked to obesity. Some explanations for this include chronic low-level inflammation that can lead to changes in our DNA and increased levels of insulin in our blood. Fat tissue can also produce excess amounts of estrogen which can lead to breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers.
In the US, it’s thought that around 3.5% of cancers in men and 9.5% of cancers in women are due to being overweight or obese. What’s more, obesity can inhibit the effectiveness of treatment, increase the recurrence of cancer, and increase the risk of associated complications after cancer treatment.
Carrying excess weight can make you more inclined to develop gallstones. Higher levels of cholesterol and bilirubin in bile collect to form small and very painful stones. More common in obese women, gallstones can also affect men.
Weight cycling – repeatedly losing and gaining pounds has also been linked to increased chances of developing gallstones. Because of this, it is important to move towards a healthier diet rather than opt for fad diets.
Complications from gallbladder can lead to cholecystitis, a very painful condition that’s accompanied by a pain in the upper abdomen that travels up to the shoulder blade. This pain can last for hours at a time and may be quite frightening to experience. A high temperature and rapid heart are other symptoms of cholecystitis.
Reducing the risk of health problems in your 50s
Maintaining a healthy BMI of 18.9 to 24.9 is an integral part of retaining quality of life as we age. Watching our weight helps us keep a stable BMI. This is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in centimeters. Online BMI calculators can help you figure out your BMI easily.
A healthy diet that includes at least five serves of fruit and vegetables, a focus on wholegrains and remaining hydrated throughout the day helps with maintaining an ideal weight. Regular exercise that includes both aerobic and strength building activities will stave off common health risks as we age, keep us in good shape, and improve our general quality of life also.