WEDNESDAY, March 30 (HealthDay News) -- A combination of diet and exercise can help obese seniors lose weight and stay fit much better than either diet or exercise alone, researchers reported Wednesday.
The finding may sound obvious, but the lead author of the new study said it had not been proven previously in people over 65.
In fact, some physicians worry about recommending dietary changes and exercise for older people for fear that weight loss may cause them to lose muscle and bone mass and increase their frailty, said geriatrics specialist Dr. Dennis T. Villareal, whose study is published in the March 31 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
But the findings suggest that older people, with approval from a physician, should combine diet and weight management "to improve their physical function and their quality of life and delay the need for institutionalization," Villareal said.
At least 20 percent of the elderly are obese -- a step above being simply overweight -- and that number will grow as more baby boomers age, Villareal added. He is currently chief of geriatrics at New Mexico VA Medical Center, but he started the research when he was at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
In a year-long trial, Villareal and his colleagues tracked the health of 93 obese people who were 65 or older. The participants were assigned to one of four groups: Some took part in a 90-minute exercise routine (including stretching, aerobic activity and training on weight machines) three times a week. Others reduced their diets by 500 to 700 calories a day, roughly equal to a couple of servings of low-sugar cereal with non-fat milk. A third group dieted and exercised, while a fourth group, acting as a control, did none of the programs.
Those who dieted and exercised did the best, losing 9 percent of their weight while retaining lean body mass, i
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