Sunday, March 28, 2004

In pursuing a healthy lifestyle, don't forget age as a factor 

That people tend to gain weight as they get older is a well-known fact. This is because of both the age-related decline in metabolism as well as lifestyle. While most people are aware that weight is significantly affected by lifestyle -- namely diet and exercise -- I suspect that the effect of age is not often well appreciated.

The Sunday Times ran a story today about a banker who was formerly a US Marine but is now overweight at 71.8 kg and needs to lose 10 kg in two months. It provides details on his diet and how it needs to be changed to enable him to lose the requisite weight. For comparison, it also wrote about two fit and healthy so-called "hot bods", including how they exercise and eat. Clearly, the moral of the story is to follow the examples set by the latter, not the former.

Would the overweight banker achieve "hot bod" status by following the latter two's exercise and dietary regimens? Hard to tell. For one thing, while the banker's current diet reportedly sees him consuming 3,000 to 5,000 calories a day, the amount of calories consumed by the "hot bods" is not mentioned. What I could discern is that they don't seem to be too restrictive. One of the "hot bods" actually says that he doesn't really watch his diet; he eats "whatever is available for me".

What I did notice was that the banker is 34 years old, while the "hot bods" are 26. That makes the comparison seem a little unfair. It also makes it easier to understand why one of the "hot bods" can afford to eat "whatever is available". As I mentioned earlier, one tends to gain weight with declining metabolism as one ages, and the banker is reported to have gained much of his excess weight in the last seven years. That suggests that he started gaining weight at 27. Neither of the "hot bods" has even reached that age.

To be fair, the article doesn't directly suggest that the banker can look like the 26 year-olds just by following their exercise and dietary regimens. But to be fair to the banker, comparison with 34-year-old "hot bods" would probably have been more appropriate, except that such "hot bods" are also likely to be harder to find.

The other thing that caught my eye was that the article quoted the banker as saying: "I grew up eating prata, man. I never thought what my mother was feeding me was unhealthy."

Now, while I won't suggest that eating prata is necessarily healthy, the statement does bring up another common confusion. What your mother feeds you is often healthy, but only because mothers feed you when you are young. For youngsters, healthy foods include body-building foods like milk, eggs and even red meat. For adults, as growth hormones decline and the body can no longer effectively metabolise their nutrients, such foods become the very causes of age-related diseases.

Of course, the general thrust of the article is still correct: Health is more likely to be attained by a moderate diet and regular exercise. But I just couldn't help feeling that, like many other articles on exercise and diet I've read, the effect of age itself has not been given due consideration.


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