• Seniors shouldn't focus on weight loss as a sign of good health. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Losing weight in the later years of life might not be the celebratory milestone it once was in your late-40s or 50s. Experts recommend Australian seniors keep a little fat on their body as extra ‘padding’ to preserve their health and stay strong.
Yasmin Noone

19 Feb 2016 - 12:15 PM  UPDATED 19 Feb 2016 - 2:43 PM

While many of us will spend countless years chasing our weight loss goals in the hope of achieving a lean figure, experts warn that this pursuit shouldn’t last a lifetime.

If we lose too much weight in our senior years, it can have detrimental effects on our health.

This is because the impact of weight loss on the body changes once we hit age 65, explains accredited practising dietitian Milena Katz.

“Some people who have been weight conscious all their lives see weight loss as a good thing in older age,” says Katz, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.

“But what we see is a slow progressive weight loss. They may lose a couple of kilos over a couple of years. Eventually you can end up with a lot of weight loss.”

The problem with losing weight in our senior years is that it often goes hand-in-hand with a loss in muscle mass, which can lead to falls and bone disease.

The problem with losing weight in our senior years is that it often goes hand-in-hand with a loss in muscle mass, which can lead to falls and bone disease.

“If an older person is malnourished and they get sick, they have absolutely no reserve. So they are more prone to coughs, colds and viral infections.”

It’s for these reasons that the Body Mass Index calculations for a healthy weight range change after we turn 65, increasing from 18.5–24.9 to 22-27.  

This means that a 64-year-old, considered overweight with a BMI of 26, would be considered ‘healthy’ once they turn 65.

Nutrition Australia Queensland Division’s senior nutritionist, Aloysa Hourigan, reassures seniors that in most cases, it’s okay to maintain a little extra weight.

“So don’t try to get down to the size eight you were when you were 25 as it’s not a good idea when you are older,” says Hourigan.

Here are five expert tips to help seniors keep stay strong and well, and maintain an ideal weight.

1. Eat lots of protein

Australian Dietary Guidelines suggests that older people need to eat more protein, on a per kilo basis, than they used to, to absorb enough protein over the course of a day.

It’s recommended that older females have 2 serves of protein a day while older men have 2.5 serves

“They should have protein at lunch and dinner and then incorporate it into a snack,” Hourigan says. “If they are not hungry, having one slice of bread at lunch with two proteins on it, meat and cheese, is also good idea.”

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2. Maintain dairy levels

Hourigan also stresses the importance of dairy in maintaining good health in the later years to prevent osteoporosis, osteopenia and other bone diseases.

She advises women over 50 to increase their dairy serves from 2.5 to four a day, and men to increase their serves from 2.5 to 3.5 after age 70.

What’s one serve? Around 250ml of milk, 40 grams of cheese (two slices of cheese or half a cup of ricotta), or a 200gram tub of yoghurt.

3. Eat fruit and vegetables

As we age, it becomes harder to absorb necessary nutrients so eating a diet full of fruit and vegetables is essential.  

The recommended amount of fruit remains constant at two serves a day for all ages. However Hourigan recommends having vegetables during more than one meal of the day to ensure you’re getting the recommended five serves.

One serve equals 2.5 cups of cooked vegetables or four to five cups of raw vegetables. Another alternative, she says, is to put avocado on toast at breakfast and add salad to an afternoon sandwich.

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4. Indulge a little

Seniors that are underweight or at risk of malnutrition are also advised to have a little extra fat in their diet.

“If they are 85 years old, have had heart disease and they are losing weight they might want to change from low-fat to full-fat milk and start putting cream in their tea,” says Hourigan. “And if they do, they shouldn’t feel guilty about it.”

However, she adds, if the senior is aged 65 and they have a health condition like diabetes or heart disease, “I would advise them to have reduced fat milk”.

5. Eat and exercise often

Experts recommend that seniors eat three good meals a day to ensure they obtain all the required nutrients from their food, needed to maintain a healthy body.

“Have your regular three meals a day and don’t skip meals,” says Katz.

“Weight yourself every fortnight or month to ensure you are not losing weight. “And exercise to improve or induce hunger.”

But if that doesn’t work, Hourigan suggests seniors have nutrient-rich drinks to supplement their food.

“Milk-based drinks, Sustagen or drinks for special medical purposes offer added nutrition if someone doesn’t feel like eating a meal.”

Seniors who are concerned about their weight should always consult their GP or a dietitian to receive a full blood test and be checked for malnutrition or other health concerns.