WEDNESDAY, March 30 (HealthDay News) -- A combination of diet
and exercise can help obese seniors lose weight and stay fit much
better than either diet or exercise alone, researchers reported
The finding may sound obvious, but the lead author of the new
study said it had not been proven previously in people over 65.
In fact, some physicians worry about recommending dietary
changes and exercise for older people for fear that weight loss may
cause them to lose muscle and bone mass and increase their frailty,
said geriatrics specialist Dr. Dennis T. Villareal, whose study is
published in the March 31 issue of the
New England Journal of Medicine.
But the findings suggest that older people, with approval from a
physician, should combine diet and weight management "to improve
their physical function and their quality of life and delay the
need for institutionalization," Villareal said.
At least 20 percent of the elderly are obese -- a step above
being simply overweight -- and that number will grow as more baby
boomers age, Villareal added. He is currently chief of geriatrics
at New Mexico VA Medical Center, but he started the research when
he was at Washington University School of Medicine in St.
In a year-long trial, Villareal and his colleagues tracked the
health of 93 obese people who were 65 or older. The participants
were assigned to one of four groups: Some took part in a 90-minute
exercise routine (including stretching, aerobic activity and
training on weight machines) three times a week. Others reduced
their diets by 500 to 700 calories a day, roughly equal to a couple
of servings of low-sugar cereal with non-fat milk. A third group
dieted and exercised, while a fourth group, acting as a control,
did none of the programs.
Those who dieted and exercised did the best, losing 9 percent of
their weight while retaining lean body mass, increasing oxygen
consumption and improving their strength and balance. The
diet-alone group lost 10 percent of their weight but did not
achieve similar physical improvements.
And the exercise group, along with the control group, lost no
It's not surprising that those who only exercised didn't shed
pounds, Villareal said. "There's a myth that exercise is effective
in inducing weight loss," he said, adding that exercise must be
intense to cause people to shed pounds.
Overall, the researchers reported in their study, diet or
exercise alone did improve physical function, by about 12 percent
and 15 percent, respectively. But a combination of diet and
exercise improved overall physical performance by 21 percent.
That's important because "obesity exacerbates the age-related
decline in physical function, which causes frailty, impairs quality
of life, and results in increases in nursing home admissions," they
noted in the study.
The findings make sense, said Alice H. Lichtenstein, director of
the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tuft University's Jean
Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. "It's
impressive that they were able to get the people to adhere to a
diet and to engage in physical activity," she added.
For more about
obesity, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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