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Obesity in the aging population

Obesity in the agingObesity claims an estimated 350,000 lives every year in the United States and cost the country $117 billion in medical expenses in 2000. Categorized as a chronic inflammation of the body, “Obesity results from consuming more calories than you’re burning,” says Ejiro Akpofure, MD, a family medicine practitioner with Vanguard Medical Group at Weiss.

Dr. Akpofure spoke at this month’s Learning Café at Weiss—a free monthly lecture series open to the community—about obesity in the aging population. The consequences of being overweight? Seemingly endless: diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease, stroke, arthritis—to name a few. In fact, Dr. Akpofure says, obesity can put 20 times more pressure on your joints, making obese people more likely to require hip and knee replacements.
 
“Typically, obesity is caused by your environment, and recent studies show that it also runs in families and social networks,” Dr. Akpofure says. That means if you hang out with fit people—ones who eat healthy and exercise—you’re more likely to pick up their habits and, subsequently, their looks. If, however, your friends’ ideal evening is a trip to the local drive-thru followed by a few hours in front of the television, you’ll also start to resemble one another—in a different way.
 
Other risk factors for obesity include:
  • Easy access to fast food such as drive-thrus, deliveries and restaurants in general
  • Limited access to grocery stores
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Inactivity
To combat the condition, Dr. Akpofure recommends:
  •  Exercise: “It helps you sleep better, helps you think and reduces your risk for many cancers.”
  •  Diet: “Make your plate colorful, and make water your main beverage. Avoid sugary drinks, pre-packaged meals and mindless snacking.”
Dr. Akpofure acknowledges, however, that for older people, these tasks may be easier said than done. With exercise in particular, people may have a fear of falling. Meanwhile, people with disabilities can try personalized training.

Older people may also take on the attitude that because they are old and it is more difficult to get around, they have to stay home. “But you don’t!” Dr. Akpofure says.

For people who have environmental limitations, such as lack of transportation or unsafe neighborhoods, Dr. Akpofure recommends getting involved in a local senior organization. Weiss has the WISE Senior Center, which offers free exercise classes, lectures and health events.

Other issues older adults may face include chronic illness, mood disorders, solitary lifestyle and fixed income. However, Dr. Akpofure says, “As long as you do some sort of exercise every day, you’ll get a load of benefits.” You just have to find what works best for your unique needs and abilities.

“It takes about three weeks to get a habit going and three months to solidify it,” Dr. Akpofure adds. She recommends visiting a doctor before you begin any exercise program and telling your friends and family about your new routine to help keep you motivated.

The following activities are particularly suited for older adults:
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga
  • Water aerobics
  • Walking
  • Stationary bike
  • Stretching
  • Social dancing
For more information on Senior Programs at Weiss, visit: http://www.weisshospital.com/medical-services/clinical-programs/senior/wise-program.aspx

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