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 may be normal, it is still important to monitor closely.

Maintaining a healthy weight is important to healthy aging, reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, breathing problems and high blood pressure.

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

Unhealthy stress responses: 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. Adapt responses by turning negative thoughts into positive ones.

Mindless eating: Eating mindlessly means you’re not likely 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 to slow down.

Lack of sleep: It affects your hunger hormones, making you hungrier throughout the day. According to the National Institute of Aging, older adults should get seven to nine hours each night. Create a bedtime routine and get rid of distractions before bed.

Needing more exercise: Exercise has many benefits for the body and mind, including weight control. When you don’t get enough, it may lead to weight gain. To exercise safely, 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 up success. Before starting the path to managing weight, it’s important to set up goals, and remember to keep them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Learning more ways to improve health is another step in the right direction.

Lastly, stay flexible. If you slip up, think of it as a learning experience and apply your findings to prevent future slip-ups.

The Humana Neighborhood Center (3189 W. Vine St. in Kissimmee) will host a free healthy cooking class on Thursday, March 16 at 10 a.m., where area seniors are invited to learn about the importance of a proper diet in maintaining a healthy weight. For information on this class and other upcoming health and wellness classes offered at the Humana Neighborhood Center, call 407-932-5340 or visit the center.

Alcala is a local health educator at Kissimmee Humana Neighborhood Center.

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