STARING in the mirror as we age can be a disheartening experience. Wrinkles and strands of grey hair begin to show up, accompanied by signs of widening girth. A three-pronged attack! Horrors! But is there any way to repel the advance of even one of these invaders? According to Dr Alfred Dawes — general, laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon, it is possible to actually fight and win against age-based creeping weight gain once you make a few conscious lifestyle choices.
“There will always be the risk of putting on weight as you get older, particularly in the midlife period. This is the result of hormonal and lifestyle changes that make it difficult for you to lose weight and keep it off,” said Dr Dawes.
He revealed that the most discouraging aspect of midlife weight gain is that it tends to accumulate around the midsection.
“Midsection fat is the worst kind of fat, as that is the pattern of fat distribution that increases your risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Women in particular are at increased risk of weight gain because of the changes that accompany menopause. In fact, women in their 50s and 60s gain about 1.5 pounds a year on average,” Dr Dawes disclosed.
In the case of men, while there may not be a significant change in weight, the percentage of weight occupied by fat increases as the lean muscle mass decreases with age, said the doctor.
Fortunately, the weight gain you may think is inevitable can be prevented by:
“Obesity is a disease, and, like any disease, we should screen for it. While most people don’t like being branded as obese due to the stigma attached to the designation, screening is important ,” said Dr Dawes. Screening for the disease should be done at a time when diet and lifestyle changes can result in sustained weight loss.
He explained that when people are screened for obesity, the primary point of reference is the body mass index (BMI), which is the ratio of a person’s height and weight.
“This takes into account the fact that taller people weigh more than shorter people. With this taken into account, the higher the BMI, the greater the risk of lifestyle diseases. The waist-to-height ratio is an even more accurate predictor of the likelihood of developing a lifestyle disease. Once your waist is greater than 50 per cent of your height, the risk of developing a chronic non-communicable disease increases significantly,” he cautioned.
- Resistance exercises
“As you grow older your muscle mass naturally declines. Muscle burns fat at rest. The greater your muscle mass, the more calories you burn while doing nothing,” Dr Dawes explained. But even this can be addressed. He advised that to preserve the amount of muscle in your body you must do resistance training. This may take the form of exercise and bodybuilding activities such as weightlifting, swimming and resistance bands. He said that many women fail to get results because they often concentrate on aerobics, without including strength training. He said once they begin to include these in their exercise routine, they will begin to notice a significant difference.
“You have to accept that your body has changed. You are no longer 18 and can’t eat like an 18-year-old,” Dr Dawes advised. And while you may have become addicted to unhealthy food choices, if you manage to beat age-based weight gain, you will have to drop your unhealthy eating habits, stick to healthy food choices, and cheat less. Your new body will thank you for this.
- Exercise at least three times a week
Tied for number one are these excuses: ‘I simply don’t have the time because of work’ and ‘Work makes me tired’. But Dr Dawes said you need to get over this and make time. “No matter how tired you are, do at least 20 minutes of exercise. Even if you are not feeling your best, just do it,” he advised. He also stressed the importance of healthy food choices, because once you fall off it is very hard to start again.
- Cut the carbs
Dr Dawes said that if you are truly committed to maintaining your figure, you must reduce or exclude unhealthy carbs from your meals.
“All our lives we have been told that fat is bad. But more and more evidence is pointing to carbohydrates as the culprit in the obesity epidemic. In Jamaica, for example, we eat carb-heavy meals daily. Carbs are stored as fat, which means that fewer carbs in our diet will be better for us,” Dr Dawes advised.
And beware of simple carbohydrates such as sugar, white rice and flour, he said.