Reduce your risk of chronic illnesses by watching the scale. By Ng Wan Ching
Photo: anetlanda / www.123rf.com
Many men and women tend to gain weight as they grow older, especially after having children, and with the added pressures of family and career encroaching into what used to be regular exercise routines, said Dr Lim Su Lin, chief dietitian at the National University Hospital.
Also, the unhealthy meals taken at work, stress from high-pressure jobs and a sedentary lifestyle which slows down metabolism further, as well as bad habits such as overeating, can cause one’s weight to creep up over the years, she added.
There are many physiological changes which occur with age and affect body weight. First, the body’s metabolic rate naturally slows down and burns fewer calories, said Dr Lim. The body’s muscle mass starts to decrease around the age of 30 and since muscles burn more calories and keep your body lean, weight gain occurs, she said. Hormonal changes during menopause (for women) and andropause (for men) cause an increase in fat cells, especially around the abdominal area (belly fat).
Studies have shown that, from the age of 30, a person can easily put on up to half a kilogram of weight per year without realising it. This can add up to 5kg in 10 years. Studies have shown that over 90 per cent of newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetics are overweight or obese. Dr Lim said this shows clearly that being overweight or obese is a risk factor for diabetes and if we can do something to prevent or overcome obesity, Singapore’s diabetes rate will likely come down.
Keeping to a healthy weight throughout one’s life is not just about looking good. Studies have proven that keeping to a healthy weight reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, stroke, gall bladder disease and certain cancers.
As the saying goes, “think of diet as medicine before medicine becomes your diet”, said Dr Lim. And it is not impossible to keep excess weight off throughout the different stages of life. She gives some tips on how to achieve this:
1. Be aware of weight gain: When you are aware of this risk, you will be more careful not to tip the scale too much as you age.
2. Weigh yourself every month or once every three months: It is better to know early if you have gained weight. It will then be easier to lose the 1 kg you have just gained than to wait five years later to lose the 5 kg which you have gained over the years.
3. Make healthy eating a lifestyle for you and your family: Everyone will benefit from this and it is a good foundation for your children. Healthier food choices include a good serving of vegetables at every main meal and managing food portions.
4. Use a diet app or food diary: Keep track of your diet so you know where you need to change.
5. Practise mindful eating when you eat out, attend social functions or when travelling: Be aware of food choices – what to eat more of and what to eat less of. Stop eating when you are full. Resist temptation and control the portion when an unhealthy food is placed in front of you.
6. Incorporate exercise into your routine: Include some strength- training or weight-bearing exercises to help preserve your muscles and strengthen your bones as you age.
7. Be a health advocate: Take healthy foods to social gatherings. Instead of fried chicken wings and pastries, take along fruit, salad, nuts, vegetables, popiah and homemade chicken patties.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline ‘Stop weight gain as you age’.