No one wants to gain weight at any point in life, whether they're a self-conscious teen looking for the perfect prom date or a postmenopausal mother of the bride who needs to look good in her evening gown. Extra pounds at any time are a health risk, not to mention a self-esteem killer. But one particular time of life may be extra fraught when it comes to adding pounds and inches. A new study out of Italy shows that people who gain weight after age 50 are at a higher risk of becoming disabled than those whose weight holds steady through the passing decades.

In this study, researchers at the University of Padova recruited more than 2,900 people who were at least 65 years old and asked them how much they had weighed at age 50. Those who were at a normal weight at 50 but had gained more than 10 percent of their body weight during the intervening years were 1.61 times more likely to be disabled at their current ages, with disability defined as having difficulty doing at least one daily-living activity such as showering or dressing. The people who had gained between five and 10 percent of their body weight were almost one and a half times more likely to be disabled. For people who were already obese at 50, the figures were far worse: Those who added at least another 10 percent to their body weight were almost 2.6 times likelier to be disabled later in life, and those who gained between five and 10 percent of their body weight were 1.65 times likelier to be disabled in some way.

Excess weight gain is never a good thing, but as we get on in years it can become downright hazardous. The best way to stave off extra pounds along with extra years?

  • Watch your portion sizes. Our metabolisms slow as we age. Eating exactly the same amount of food as you used to without any corresponding increase in exercise will slowly add pounds. Over time, this excess poundage can be significant.
  • Keep active. Walking, gardening and stretching all count, although moderately vigorous exercise is even better. Aim to do something physical every day for at least a half hour.
  • Find substitute activities. If loneliness or boredom have you reaching into the refrigerator constantly, look for diversions. Join a seniors group, volunteer in your community, or even hit the mall. You don't have to buy anything-just walking around and looking will keep you busy and away from the snacks.



Source: Busetto L, Romanato G, Zambon S, Calo E, Zanoni S, Corti MC, et al., "The Effects of Weight Changes After Middle Age on the Rate of Disability in an Elderly Population Sample." Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 57(6), 1015-1021.