As we age, we grow wiser, more patient and often happier — we may also grow a bit around the middle. While weight gain as we age can be normal, it is still important to monitor closely.

Maintaining a healthy weight is important to healthy aging. It can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, breathing problems and high blood pressure, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

For seniors, following a nutritious eating pattern can help their bodies stay as healthy as possible, and some elements of everyday life can affect their weight. To help people improve their lifestyle as they age, it is important to have a clear understanding of what factors can cause unhealthy weight gain and how to counter them. This can include:

• Distorted portions: People consistently eat more food when they are offered larger portions. Serving sizes and portions are not the same. Use the eyeball method to focus on portion sizes, and remember to stop eating once you are satisfied.

• An unhealthy stress response: Stress triggers the “fight-or-flight” response, which causes the release of two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. According to research published by Obesity, there’s a link between high cortisol levels and being overweight. To help manage stress, try to avoid people or situations that cause stress, or alter those situations by doing things differently. You can also adapt your responses by turning negative thoughts into positive ones.

• Mindless eating: When you eat mindlessly, you likely are not listening to your body’s cues to tell you if you are hungry or full. To eat more mindfully, avoid distractions like using a smartphone or watching television so you can slow down to savor each bite.

• Lack of sleep: Not getting enough sleep affects your hunger hormones, making you hungrier throughout the day. According to the National Institute of Aging, older adults should get 7 to 9 hours each night. Create a bedtime routine and get rid of distractions before bed.

• Needing more exercise: Exercise has many benefits for your body and mind, including weight control. When you don’t get enough, it may lead to weight gain. To exercise safely, you can go for a walk with a friend, or see if your health plan benefits include fitness classes near you.

Recognizing these unhealthy habits and taking proactive steps to combat them can set you up for success and start your weight loss journey. Before starting the path to managing your weight, it’s important to set up goals, and remember to keep them SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Learning more ways you may be able to improve your health is another step in the right direction, like attending educational health classes.  

Humana Neighborhood Centers offer health and wellness classes throughout Southern Nevada. They even publish a monthly calendar of events that are open to the public at no cost.  

For information about classes in North Las Vegas, call 725-726-9112 or visit the center at 4830 W. Craig Road, Suite 130; for Summerlin, call 702-380-6170, or visit the center at 8885 W. Charleston Blvd., Suite 140; and for Henderson, call 702-269-5200 or visit the center at 1000 North Green Valley Parkway, Suite 720.

Lastly, stay flexible and remember that all of us are lifelong learners. If you slip up, think of it as a learning experience and apply your findings to your plan to prevent future slip-ups.  

Ada Yuen is a local health educator at the North Las Vegas and Summerlin Humana Neighborhood Centers.

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