Changes in Body Build
If you have been around the same older people, such as your grandparents, for many years, you undoubtedly have noticed that the way their bodies look changed over time. Two changes are especially visible: a decrease in height and fluctuations in weight. Height remains fairly stable until the 50s, but between the mid-50s and mid-70s men lose about 1 inch and women lose about 2 inches (de Groot et al., 1996). This height loss usually is caused by compression of the spine from loss of bone strength, changes in the discs between the vertebrae in the spine, and changes in posture (Gerhart,
1995) . We consider some specific aspects of changes in bone structure a bit later.
Weight gain in middle age followed by weight loss in later life is common. Typically, people gain weight between their 20s and their mid-50s but lose weight throughout old age. In part, the weight gain is caused by changes in body metabolism, which tends to slow down, and reduced levels of exercise, which in turn reduces the number of calories needed daily. Unfortunately, many people do not adjust their food intake to match these changes. The result is often tighter-fitting clothes. For men, this weight gain tends to be around the abdomen, creating middle-aged bulge. For women, this weight gain tends to be around the hips, giving women the familiar “pear-shaped” figure. By late life, though, the body loses both muscle and
bone, which weigh more than fat, in addition to some fat, resulting in weight loss (Yang, Bishai, & Harman, 2008). Research on the relationships among body weight, health, and survival shows that older adults who have normal body weight at age 65 have longer life expectancy and lower rates of disability than 65-year-olds in other weight categories (Yang et al., 2008). Keeping your weight in the normal range for your height, then, may help you live longer.