The Scales May Deceive Us as We Age

Jack Barton | 2014-08-28 16:34:35

Many individuals become more conscious of their weight as they age. A natural progression of a reduction in activity levels (for most, hopefully not if you’ve been reading our blogs) often leads to a slight gain in weight over the years. Therefore it’s not uncommon for individuals to hop on the scales more frequently in order to, in their opinion, keep an eye on their health. However as individuals age further a loss of weight often occurs as a result of declining muscle mass and bone mineral density .

I’ve previously mentioned about the need for individuals to retain muscle mass in order to maintain independence, health and quality of life. Whilst many consider weight to be the best and easiest possible way to monitor the impact of one’s lifestyle choices I’d argue that body composition is of more importance.

Literature suggests that loss of muscle mass may progress at a faster rate than weight in ageing populations (Hughes et al, 2002). Thus providing an argument against a simple weigh in to monitor health, because in the case of sarcopenia (rapid muscle degeneration) or progressive loss of bone mineral density the scales may be deceiving!

As an individual ages it becomes harder and harder to gain muscle mass and bone mineral density, in fact peak bone mineral density occurs in your early to mid-twenties. Therefore lifestyle factors often dictate the rate of decline or maintenance of bone and muscle health. With this in mind there is an opportunity to take action before it is too late.

Stable weight may disguise the fact that an individual is losing muscle mass and bone density, which are both associated with quality of life and total mortality rate. In the case of osteoporosis, the condition may only be identified after a fall and fracture. With sarcopenia it’s a little more obvious however most will notice in the first instance after the loss of ability to engage in everyday activities.

So what are my recommendations? Jump off those scales and go get active, the best way to maintain muscle mass and bone mineral density is to increase daily movement and also resistance exercises if you can (whilst keeping up protein intake), the sooner you start the better your musculoskeletal health is going to be.

Jack Barton (Researcher, Rescon Ltd)

Hughes, V. A., Frontera, W. R., Roubenoff, R., Evans, W. J., & Singh, M. A. F. (2002). Longitudinal changes in body composition in older men and women: role of body weight change and physical activity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 76(2), 473-481.