The Weight Of Aging

Try Sleeping It Off

Recent studies suggest solid sleep may be the key to maintaining a healthy weight as we age.

By John Salak –

It’s tough getting older. Chances are you’re a little slower, it takes longer to loosen up, there are various minor aches and pains and then there are those added pounds that appear. Many, if not most, people gain weight as they age, even if they exercise regularly. Recent studies from universities and institutes in Sweden, France and the US, at least are now helping us get a better handle on why we’re packing on the pounds.

Exercise aside, weight gain for the mature comes down to diet, changes in metabolism and perhaps even sleep patterns.

The Karolinska Institute in Sweden recently reported that even if we maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly, older individuals still are susceptible to weight gain because lipid turnover in the fat tissue declines as we age. This makes it easier to gain weight.

Lipid turnover in fat tissues effectively regulates how fast fat (lipid) in fat cells is removed and stored. The Swedish 13-year study found that there lipid turnover decreased in every individual they examined, regardless of their diet and exercise patterns.

Not surprisingly, the Karolinska Institute also found that individuals who didn’t adjust the diets by reducing calories gained an average of 20 percent more weight than those who did.

Another obvious factor in mature weight gain is diet, according to researchers at Tufts and Harvard. Despite some improvements in eating patterns over the last two decades, Americans overall still eat too many low-quality carbohydrates and consume too much saturated fat. For older Americans, the news is even worse, as there has been almost no dietary improvements on average for those over 50, particularly among individuals with lower incomes and education levels. When combined with reduced lipid turnover as they age, these Americans are doubling down on weight gain.

“Although there are some encouraging signs that the American diet improved slightly over time, we are still a long way from getting an ‘A’ on this report card,” said co-senior author of the US study, Fang Fang Zhang, nutrition epidemiologist at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.” These findings also highlight the need for interventions to reduce socioeconomic differences in diet quality, so that all Americans can experience the health benefits of an improved diet.”

Sleep or a lack of it is another apparent factor in weight gain at any age. A Pennsylvania State University study published in the Journal of Lipid Researchreportedjust a few days of sleep deprivation can lead to extra pounds because individuals feel less full and they metabolize fat differently.

Previous studies on sleep disruption have already underscored its risk of fostering obesity and diabetes. Those studies, however, largely focused on glucose metabolism and diabetes, they didn’t focus on lipids digestion from food.

The Penn State study found that sleep restriction resulted in a faster clearance of lipids from the blood after a meal. As a result, those with less or restricted sleep felt as if they weren’t full even though that had eaten significant meals during the examination. Consequently, they felt they could or should eat more, possibly predisposing themselves to weight gain.

The study’s authors noted that despite not feeling full, the fats these sleep-deprived individuals  previously consumed hadn’t disappeared. They were simply stored away (think weight gain).

Aging is inevitable and so is the risk of gaining weight for older individuals. If these studies are correct, at least eating right, exercising and sleeping enough and exercising can help keep pounds at bay.

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