Obesity is a rising epidemic in the United States. Nearly 78 million adults and 13 million children struggle with their weight every day, often losing self-esteem and experiencing emotional distress. Obesity raises your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even some cancers.
While genetics have been known to play some role in the excess accumulation of fat, the majority of obesity cases are due to imbalanced diets. The number of calories consumed versus the amount burned is severely disproportionate due to overeating combined with physical inactivity.
Obesity carries more risks in old age
This struggle with excess pounds prevents people from being able to do the most basic things, such as walking, standing for prolonged periods, or even breathing normally. Obesity can have a greater impact on older adults as well. It is estimated that nearly 13 million adults 65 and older are obese today. Having to carry excess weight at more advanced ages is strongly associated with the development of major mobility disability (MMD).
Major mobility disability is defined as the inability to walk 400 meters—about a quarter mile—without sitting and without help from the use of a walker or another person.
These obese older adults may feel discouraged when thinking of losing their excess weight, but according to new research, even moderate-intensity exercise can improve their ability to perform common daily activities, preserving their independence.
“The inability to walk a quarter of a mile is a proxy for common daily activities, such as the inability to walk a block around the neighborhood or to walk several street blocks to go to a store. Having a major mobility disorder can really affect the quality of life and independence for older people, but we showed that moderate exercise was a safe and effective way to reduce that risk even in severely obese people,” said the study’s lead author, Stephen Kritchevsky, Ph.D., director of the Sticht Center for Healthy Aging and Alzheimer’s Prevention at Wake Forest Baptist.
A little exercise goes a long way
The study in question analyzed data from a large clinical trial that consisted of 1,635 sedentary men and women age 70 to 89. Participants were randomly placed into a moderate intensity physical activity program or a health education program to test if the physical activity program would reduce the rate of MMD compared to the education program.
The physical activity group had a goal of walking at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes and performing 10 minutes of lower-extremity strength training with ankle weights. They also performed 10 minutes of balance training. All these exercises were done in a single session.
The education program involved in-person group workshops focused on age-relevant topics such as nutrition, safety, and legal/financial issues.
Participants who had a BMI of 35 or above and were part of the physical activity group saw a reduction in their risk for MDD by 31 percent.
The researchers hope that with these results, morbidly obese people will feel good knowing that there are some benefits from being as active as they can be.