As we age, even the healthiest of us will probably experience some signs of heart disease. Nothing that will threaten our life or even slow us down, but still, age does bring some changes.
Studies show that our aorta, the main artery coming into our heart, becomes gradually stiffer with age, even when we don’t have other risk factors, like smoking or obesity. This stiffening is the main reason that the risk of hypertension increases as we get older.
But for people who are obese, the aorta stiffens much more quickly, often with deadly results.
Good news, though… an obese older adult doesn’t need to go on a super strict diet in order to modify this risk.
A new study shows that even small changes in both diet and lifestyle habits can promote sufficient weight loss to move them right out of the danger zone.
You don’t have to starve yourself to lose weight
Dr. Tina E. Brinkley, associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, headed a study where the subjects were 160 sedentary adults, ages 65 to 79, who were clinically obese.
The participants were randomly assigned to one of three interventions for a period of 20 weeks:
- exercise only with no change in their diet
- exercise plus a reduction of about 200 calories a day
- exercise plus a reduction of 600 calories a day.
All participants received supervised aerobic exercise training four days per week throughout the 20 weeks of the study.
Only those who exercised and reduced their calorie intake moderately, by 200 calories, showed significant improvement in aortic stiffness.
Specifically, two measurements of aortic stiffness improved: distensibility, or the capacity to swell to accommodate blood flow, increased by 21 percent, and pulse wave velocity, the rate at which pressure waves move down the blood vessel, decreased by eight percent.
Neither of the two other groups showed any significant change in aortic stiffness.
Exercise is essential to weight loss
This study also proved that diet alone isn’t enough for significant weight loss.
Changes in body mass index (BMI), total fat mass, percentage of body fat, abdominal fat, and waist circumference were greater in both of the calorie-restricted groups than in the exercise-only group.
Although moderate physical activity such as brisk walking is safe for most people, if you’ve lived a sedentary lifestyle and are obese, it’s important that you check with your doctor before embarking on a formal exercise program. This is particularly true if you have diabetes, arthritis, or heart, lung or kidney disease.
Besides formal exercise, there are small changes you can make in your daily routine that will make a difference:
- walking to work or while running errands
- taking the stairs instead of the elevator
- parking farther away from destinations and walking the remaining distance
According to Dr. Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in eating issues and weight loss, “We have horrible memories in terms of what we eat.”
Dr. Albers recommends keeping a photo diary. Save your food photos in a daily file and review them before your next snack or meal. They’ll remind you what you’ve already eaten that day, and may help you decide to “downsize” or choose something else.
Perhaps most importantly, when you get off track (and you will), you need to outsmart your inner critic.
Dr. Domenica Rubino, director of the Washington Center for Weight Management and Research, says you should pretend it’s a friend who has slipped up on their diet, not you.
Write them a supportive note, and then read it out loud — to yourself. Be your own best friend, and you’ll get back on track a lot sooner than if you criticize yourself.
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Cutting 200 calories daily and exercising may improve heart health in obese older adults — American Heart Association
Influence of age, risk factors, and cardiovascular and renal disease on arterial stiffness: clinical applications — American Journal of Hypertension
Exercise: When to check with your doctor first — Mayoclinic.org
Tips to Lose 100 Pounds or More — Web MD