Even more reason for older women (and likely men too) not only to lose weight; but keep the pounds off. A fascinating study into post-menopausal women finds that if they regain weight after weight loss post menopause they don’t get back as much lean tissue as they lost, so the end result is more fat, even when they go back to their original weight.
You do lose lean tissue and fat when you drop weight according to study authors. Research has shown that lean tissue makes up about a quarter of a total weight loss. The loss of lean muscle and bone is especially troublesome for older people, and something doctors need to consider when advising their older patients.
For the research, the team investigated the body composition of just under 80 post-menopausal women (aged 50-70 years old) who were not active either before or just after they ended a five month diet. The team weighed the subjects at six and twelve months after they had lost weight, and looked at the body composition for anyone who gained back a minimum of 4.5 pounds.
Generally the subjects lost around 12% of body weight on the diet, but by the 6 month follow up, almost two thirds of them had put back on some weight. By the year follow up, nearly three quarters of the subjects had regained, including 11 who had gained even more than they lost. At this point, 84% of those who put weight back on had gained over the 4.5 pound benchmark.
The subjects had lost two times as much muscle as fat when following a reduced calorie diet, but after they regained their bodies had over four times the amount of fat as they did muscle. Earlier studies of weight gain/regain done in younger subjects showed that they generally gain fat and lean muscle in a similar proportion as they lost it.
Of course because the study didn’t have a control group of the same aged women who did not lose and then regain weight, no one can be sure the alteration in the lean muscle to fat composition isn’t just a natural process for their age. This is a question that needs to be examined in the future.
On this same topic, a paper published in 2009 discussed changes in body composition for men and women aged 70 to 79, comparing those who had lost a minimum of 3% of their body weight and subsequently regained to those whose weight stayed the same. They found that so-called weight cycling may well contribute to an overall loss of lean muscle mass in mature men. Here too, more research was needed.
Experts are still grappling with understanding the natural changes of body composition over time. This is especially important today because so many of us are heavy and overweight people are surviving longer than ever. There are no good guidelines for doctors to follow in terms of treating obese older people. There are experts who believe it’s better to leave them as they are – some are totally opposed to older people losing weight.
While you’ll need to make your own decision in terms of weight loss post menopause, not only is there a very real risk of gaining it back, weight loss in your older years may well have a detrimental impact on the lean muscle to fat composition of your body. In favor of weight loss in older people is the knowledge that when older obese patients slim down, they improve their osteoarthritis – they can get around and use the stairs more easily and this quality of life improvement is invaluable. Only you can make the best choice for yourself and your circumstances.