A shrinking share of older adults are at what health officials consider a healthy weight. Nearly 40 percent of Americans 51 and older are overweight, and more than 40 percent have obesity.
But losing weight at this age, after decades of ingrained habits, can be daunting. Thankfully, studies suggest that making small, simple changes — rather than overhauling your entire eating and exercise patterns — can reap big payoffs.
When researchers at the University of Colorado Denver instructed people to shave 100 calories a day from their diets, for example, most ended up getting rid of 300.
“Losing weight and keeping it off takes some pretty big changes, but small steps are the way to get going,” says study coauthor James Hill, the chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Oftentimes, he explains, “people do something dramatic that cannot be maintained. But small steps get you going in the right direction.” Even better, losing just 5 percent of your body weight — 10 pounds for a 200-pound person — significantly lowers the risk of health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, according to a study published in Cell Metabolism.
Here are eight baby steps to take today.
1. Add an extra 500 steps
While 10,000 steps a day has become a common fitness goal, that number can be daunting. A study published in JAMA suggests many older adults can reap significant health benefits with less than half that amount.
“Rather than downloading a pedometer app and obsessing about getting steps in, just tell yourself you’re going to add about 500 steps, or roughly a quarter mile, to your daily activity each week,” suggests Pamela Peeke, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of The Hunger Fix.
That’s as easy as getting up from your desk at lunchtime and walking around the block. Next week, add another block. And the following week, add a third. Within a month, you’ll have added an additional 1,000 steps to your daily routine.