En español | March 2020 to March 2021 was unlike any year in recent memory. Most of us experienced — in no particular order — high levels of long-term stress, interruption of routine, restricted (or too much) access to loved ones, weight gain, muscle loss, disordered sleep and disruption of regular doctor visits. Your body has had one heck of a year.
Plus, as a group, we've felt hunted. Ninety five percent of Americans killed by COVID-19 were 50 or older. We're, hopefully, on the verge of more widespread COVID-19 vaccination, warmer weather and fewer lifestyle restrictions — which makes this the perfect time to check up on ourselves. The following collection of self-assessments on the 50-plus body and mind will offer clues to hidden (and maybe some really obvious) areas where you need damage control. The easy part? You can do them without leaving the house. Nothing new about that, right?
Step one: Evaluate your weight
Is it any surprise that we gained weight during the pandemic? We had nowhere else to be except our kitchens and couches. The result: An October 2020 study of 7,753 people found that 27.5 percent copped to recent weight gain, but those who were already obese had even higher rates (33.4 percent).
To assess the damage, ask yourself some revealing questions.
The key questions
Have I gained more than a few pounds?
And if yes, where? Belly? Hips? Both? An upward creeping number on the scale and tighter clothes tell the tale, but not the whole story. The place where those extra pounds accumulated on your body matters, too.
Where have I gained (or lost) weight?
Age-related muscle loss, known as sarcopenia, plays a role in how our weight is distributed. As we lose muscle in our legs, chest and back, we gain weight in our bellies. That's because one of the things muscle does so well is to store calories, in the form of glycogen. If you have less muscle, you have less storage space, and so those excess calories get converted to belly fat. Seventy-two percent of men and 44 percent of women over age 65 can be characterized as at least moderately sarcopenic, according to one study.
Test yourself: The expanding-waist check
There are two parts to this. First, take a tape measure and wrap it around your midsection at the level of your navel. Despite what jeans marketers have sold us, that's actually where your waist is. If you don't have a tape measure, use a piece of string, then measure the string with a ruler. The American Heart Association says a waist measurement of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches for women is considered “abdominal obesity,” no matter what your body weight is or how tall you are.
Now, run the tape over your hip bones at their widest point. Here comes the math: Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. The World Health Organization classifies 0.9 or above in men and 0.85 or above in women as obese.
Why these measures? Central (belly) obesity surrounds your liver and other organs in metabolically active fat, meaning it manufactures chemicals that raise inflammation and promote disease. Research has linked weight gain after age 55 to higher risk of death from any cause; risk is particularly high if you put on more than 20 pounds.
Your Weight After 70
Being overweight in one's 70s is not necessarily something to fret about. One study of 9,200 men and women ages 70 to 75 found that those who were classified in the overweight category were less likely to die over the next 10 years than those who were deemed of “normal” weight. (That did not apply, however, to people who qualified as being “obese.") The issue is fluctuations in weight. A 2018 study of more than 63,000 people up to age 75 showed that the more weight gained at older ages, the higher one's risk of all-cause death, particularly if you put on more than 20 pounds. On the other hand, those who lost 20 pounds or more in their 70s and beyond were also at greater risk, according to a review of studies.
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Central (belly) obesity is no joke: It surrounds your liver and other organs in metabolically active fat, raising inflammation, one reason why being obese is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, even Alzheimer's. In one study of older adults, women with central obesity were 39 percent more likely to develop dementia over the next 15 years than those without.
As for that weight gain, don't let “older people have a harder time losing weight” be an excuse. A 2020 study from the UK of two groups of obese people found that those older than age 60 lost a statistically identical amount of weight as those younger than 60.
To address your weight, it's time to look at your diet — in step two.