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AARP's Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Weight management resources to help you achieve your health goals

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Sarah Rogers (Source: Getty Images (4))

Weight Management

Find and maintain a healthy weight

As our bodies change with age, so can our weight, either with unwanted weight gain, or unexpected weight loss. Maintaining a constant healthy weight can be challenging as we navigate new normals in our metabolism, activity levels, sleep patterns, food preferences and more.

Being overweight in older age can increase your risk for health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and stroke. There are also links between obesity and dementia. However, being underweight is not ideal either. A lower BMI can increase risk for osteoporosis and anemia, and it can be more difficult to recover from illness, according to the National Institute on Aging.  It can also increase risk of fractures. Sudden unintended weight loss can be a sign of a serious medical problem.

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What a healthy weight range is can be different for older adults as well. Where you are carrying your weight can be more important than what the number on the scale says, and factors such as mobility, stamina and life goals must be factored in. It’s important to talk with your doctor about your weight maintenance and lifestyle goals.  

VIDEO: This Doctor Explains Why Eating Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat

This science-based guide can help you on your healthy weight goal journey, whether you are seeking to determine the ideal weight for you, to lose a few pounds in your belly, or to add some bulk as you get older.

What is your healthy weight?

Finding a healthy weight for yourself can be complicated. Health care providers have long relied on body mass index (BMI), which is a mathematical formula in which your weight in kilograms is divided by your height in meters squared. But BMI doesn't tell the whole story. It won’t measure whether your weight is carried in your legs, hips, arms or in the more dangerous area of your belly. That knowledge is key to assessing your risk for illnesses like high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

To get a full picture of your weight and health, many health care providers will consider BMI along with age, body fat percentage, waist circumference and whether you have any weight-related health conditions. Age, gender, race and ethnicity can also be factors in the definition of healthy weights.

Discover more about the latest scientifically backed ways to measure healthy weight, including a weight chart for older adults.

And calculate your BMI here.

How to lose weight  

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There’s so much focus on weight loss drugs and surgery right now, but there are still science-backed approaches to losing weight naturally.

It’s important to explore all avenues in weight loss, including foods that can help you lose weight and foods that boost metabolism. There are also many effective diets for weight loss and some natural home remedies to aid in weight loss. And of course, exercise and walking are a key part of a weight loss or weight management journey.  

Read more about how to lose weight here

Risk factors for weight gain

For many over age 50, weight has been creeping up for years, with an average of 1 to 2 pounds gained annually. Muscle mass generally declines with age and metabolism can slow down. There can also be unexpected contributors to weight gain, including medical conditions such as Cushing syndrome, depression, heart failure and sleep disorders. Genetics and vitamin deficiencies can also play a role, as well as certain medications.

Read more about causes and risk factors for weight gain as well as medications that can cause weight gain.  

Surprising foods that cause weight gain

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Eating too much of practically any food can increase your risk for weight gain. And many of the obvious culprits, like candy, potato chips and baked goods can add on pounds. But there are also some contributors to weight gain that may surprise you, including fat-free or low-fat cookies and muffins, and even plant-based dairy foods, which can be loaded with extra sugar to improve taste. 

Read about surprising foods that cause weight gain

Read more: foods you can eat without gaining weight.

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Menopause and weight gain

Many women notice changes to their bodies as they go through menopause, particularly in their bellies. Women gain an average of 5 pounds during menopause, which is mostly attributed to the aging process itself, not menopause.

But menopause can be the cause of a greater redistribution of fat to your midsection. Ovaries stop producing estrogen, which causes more fat to deposit in your midsection. But there are ways to halt and even reverse the increase of belly fat during and after menopause.

Read more on the causes, risk factors and solutions for menopause belly.

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How to halt or reverse age-related weight gain

A major reason for age-related muscle loss has to do with our diminished ability to process protein. Making sure we get sufficient protein, and spacing out the intake of that protein, can help with maintaining a healthy weight. The AARP-backed Whole Body Reset book explains how protein timing can help to halt or even reverse weight gain and improve your health and energy levels.

Read more about the Whole Body Reset.

How to gain weight   

Many of us who have battled the scale for years would be baffled by the idea of trying to gain weight. But some may actually struggle to keep weight on as they get older. Studies have shown that people who carry a few extra pounds could live longer, but it’s important to put on weight the healthy way and focus on building and maintain muscle mass at the same time.

Read more about how to gain weight safely.

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