For older adults who have obesity, it may seem overwhelming to think about calorie control to lose weight and improve health markers, but a new study in the journal Circulation offers some good news: It doesn’t take much to make a difference.
Researchers looked at 160 sedentary adults aged 65 to 79, and assigned participants to one of three groups: exercise only with their regular diet; exercise plus moderate calorie restriction of about 200 calories daily; and exercise plus more intensive calorie restriction of approximately 600 calories per day. Heart health was assessed before, during, and after the 20-week study period.
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Although participants in both of the calorie restriction groups lost weight, only the moderate calorie group saw a significant change in aortic stiffness measures. That came as a surprise to researchers, according to Tina Brinkley, Ph.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
“It’s notable that the group with the highest calorie reduction didn’t have any improvements in aortic stiffness,” she says, adding that they did see benefits in terms of decreased body weight and blood pressure. Those results indicate that even a slight reduction in calories may be more beneficial than people might think, she adds.
Aortic stiffness is a key measure of how well your cardiovascular system is doing as you age. Although there’s a certain level of stiffening that happens as you get older, risk factors like the presence of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity can accelerate the process. Brinkley says previous studies have indicated that lifestyle behaviors like physical activity and a healthy diet may be about to counteract this, even in people with chronic conditions.
In terms of the recent study, more research will need to be done to determine why the moderate group had the most advantages, she adds, but the takeaway here is that a little reduction seems to go a long way in improving heart health—as well as body fat distribution.
Adding exercise into the mix can make those effects even more powerful and give older adults not just improvements in their body composition, but also their brain health along the way, Brinkley says.
“When you strengthen your heart with exercise and healthy eating, you’re also strengthening the brain-body connection,” she says.
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