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Older Adult Health Facts

For a Healthy Weight, Find Your Balance Between Food and Physical Activity

Staying at—or getting to—a healthy weight may help you in several ways. Not only will it help you feel better and look better, but research shows it plays an important role in reducing the risk of several types of chronic disease.

Excess body fat leads to a higher risk for premature death, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and triglycerides, heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, respiratory dysfunction, gout, arthritis, and certain kinds of cancers.

Determine what a healthy weight is for you.

Use the Adult Body Mass Index (BMI) Chart on the next page to help you determine if you are underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese. Locate your height in the left-most column and read across the row for your height to your weight. Follow the column of the weight up to the top row that lists the BMI. A BMI under 19 is underweight, 19 through 24 is the healthy weight range, 25 through 29 is in the overweight range, and a BMI of 30 and above is the obese range.

For those who are overweight or obese, modest weight loss (e.g., 10 pounds) has health benefits, and the prevention of further weight gain is very important. Eating fewer calories while increasing physical activity are the keys to controlling body weight. Aim for a slow, steady weight loss by decreasing calorie intake (eating fewer calories) while maintaining an adequate nutrient intake and increasing physical activity. Next are some suggestions to get you on your way. If you are overweight and have a chronic disease and/or are on medication, talk to your healthcare provider before you start a weight loss program to make sure the changes are safe.

Many older Americans need to eat fewer calories, be more active, and make wiser food choices.

Eat fewer calories. Calories count—and they come from both food and beverages. There are a right number of calories for you to eat each day. You can estimate your number from the Estimated Calories Needed table on page 3. For example, a 60-year-old, sedentary woman should aim for 1,600 calories a day, while a 60-year-old, sedentary man should aim for 2,000 calories a day.

Be more active. Eating fewer calories, of course, is just one side of the equation. Caloric expenditure needs to be in balance with caloric intake to maintain body weight. That means the calories "burned" during physical activity (in addition to activities of daily living) need to be the same as the calories taken in as food and beverages. All adults should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, above usual activity, on most days of the week. However, to prevent weight gain, you may need up to 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity on most days of the week while not eating more calories than you require.

Make wiser food choices. Remember, it is always important to eat foods that are high in nutrients for the amount of calories they contain, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products. Using the food label on packaged foods can help you make healthier food choices. And don't forget to watch your portion size. Controlling portion size helps limit calorie intake, especially when eating foods that are high in calories.

Adult BMI Chart
Height BMI 19-24
Healthy Weight (in pounds)
BMI 25-29
Overweight (in pounds)
BMI 30-35
Obese (in pounds)
4'10" 91-115 119-138 143-167
4'11" 94-119 124-143 148-173
5' 97-123 128-148 153-179
5'1" 100-127 132-153 158-185
5'2" 104-131 136-158 164-191
5'3" 107-135 141-163 169-197
5'4" 110-140 145-169 174-204
5'5" 114-144 150-174 180-210
5'6" 118-148 155-179 186-216
5'7" 121-153 159-185 191-223
5'8" 125-158 164-190 197-230
5'9" 128-162 169-196 203-236
5'10" 132-167 174-202 209-243
5'11" 136-172 173-208 215-250
6' 140-177 184-213 221-258
6'1" 144-182 189-219 227-265
6'2" 148-186 194-225 233-272
6'3" 152-192 200-232 240-279
Source: Evidence Report of Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults, 1998. NIH/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Read food packages to make smart choices.

Use the Nutrition Facts label. Most packaged foods have a Nutrition Facts label like the label on the next page. Use this tool to make smart food choices and find out the amount of calories and nutrients you are actually eating. To use the label effectively:

Know the serving size. Controlling how much you eat helps limit calorie intake, particularly when eating foods that are high in calories. When using packaged foods with the Nutrition Facts label, you can check servings and calories as noted above. When eating whole foods or packaged foods without labels, pay attention to how the serving size compares to a recommended amount of food from each food group.

Read the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight from most to least. Make sure that those ingredients you want more of, such as whole grains (e.g. whole wheat) are listed first, as in the example below. Make sure that those you want to eat less of, like added sugars, are not one of the first few ingredients. Some names for added sugars (caloric sweeteners) include sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, corn sweetener, maple syrup, honey, and molasses.

This is a label from whole-wheat bread (High Fructose Corn Syrup is highlighted.)


Check for claims on the front of food packages. The labels of some food products have a variety of claims to help manage your weight such as "low calorie," "lite," "low fat," "reduced fat," "reduced sugar," or "diet."

Estimated Calories Needed by Gender, Age, and Activity Level a
Gender Age (Years) Sedentaryb Moderately Activec Actived
Female 51+ 1,600 1,800 2,000 - 2,200
Male 51+ 2,000 2,200 - 2,400 2,400 - 2,800
aThese levels are based on Estimated Energy Requirements (EER) from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Dietary Reference Intakes macronutrients report, 2002, calculated by gender, age, and activity level for reference-sized individuals. "Reference size," as determined by IOM, is based on median height and weight for that height to give a BMI of 21.5 for adult females and 22.5 for adult males.
bSedentary means a lifestyle that includes only the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
cModerately active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking about 1.5 to 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
dActive means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.

Calories/Hour Expended in Common Physical Activities
Moderate Physical Activity Approximate
Calories per hour for
a 154 pound Persona
Hiking 370
Light gardening/yard work 330
Dancing 330
Golf (walking and carrying clubs) 330
Bicycling (<10 miles per hour) 290
Walking (3.5 miles per hour) 280
Weight lifting (general light workout) 220
Stretching 180
Vigorous Physical Activity Approximate
Calories per hour for
a 154 pound Persona
Bicycling (>10 miles per hour) 590
Swimming (slow freestyle laps) 510
Walking (4.5 miles per hour) 460
Heavy yard work (chopping wood) 440
Weight lifting (vigorous effort) 440
aCalories burned per hour will be higher for persons who weigh more than 154 lbs (70 kg) and lower for persons who weigh less.
Source: Adapted from the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) Report.

Sample Nutrition Facts Label Content Below

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size, 1 cup (228 grams)
Servings Per Container, 2
Amount Per Serving:
Calories, 250
Calories from Fat, 110
Total Fat, 12 grams (18% Daily Value*)
Saturated Fat, 3 grams(15% Daily Value)
Trans Fat, 3 grams
Cholesterol, 30 milligrams (10% Daily Value)
Sodium 470 milligrams (20% Daily Value)
Potassium 700 milligrams (20% Daily Value)
Total Carbohydrate, 31 grams (10% Daily Value)
Dietary Fiber, 0 grams (0% Daily Value)
Sugars, 5 grams
Protein, 5 grams
Vitamin A (4% Daily Value)
Vitamin C (2% Daily Value)
Calcium (20% Daily Value)
Iron (4% Daily Value)
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Calories: 2,000
Total fat, Less than 65 grams
Saturated fat, Less than 20 grams
Cholesterol, Less than 300 milligrams
Sodium, Less than 2,400 milligrams
Total Carbohydrate, 300 grams
Dietary Fiber, 25 grams