Healthy Weight and BMI Range for Older Adults

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BMI (body mass index) is a key sign of overall health. Guidelines recommend that all adults keep their BMI between 18 and 24.9. A BMI of 25 and over shows that you are overweight. And a BMI over 30 indicates obesity.

However, it is possible that a few extra pounds may not be as harmful to those over age 65 as they are for younger people. In fact, being underweight is something older people should worry about.

This article will discuss healthy weight ranges and BMI for older adults. It will also help you learn how BMI affects older adults and why it's dangerous for older adults to be underweight.

weight gain tips for older adults

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

How BMI Affects Older Adults

BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. There are plenty of online calculators and charts that can help you determine your BMI based on standard measures (inches, pounds) if you prefer.

There are increased health risks associated with having a high BMI. These include:

The risks apply across all age groups.

That said, there are relationships between BMI and health factors in older adults. This has led some experts—including the National Institutes of Health—to suggest that it may be a good idea for older adults to keep a BMI between 25 and 27.

Dangers of Low Body Weight

One of the largest studies that set out to determine just how much BMI affects the health of older adults was published in 2014 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers collected BMI data from 32 studies. It included 197,940 adult participants (all older than age 65) who were followed for at least five years.

Despite what many people believe, if you are an adult over 65, being underweight increases the risk of death. But being overweight does not.

In fact, several studies found that being underweight at age 65 was linked to poor health and shorter life expectancy. Being overweight or obese at 65 was only rarely linked to worse health outcomes or lower life expectancy. This was compared to those who were at a healthy weight at age 65.

Sometimes the overweight and obese study participants had better health outcomes. But, despite this evidence, it does not mean older adults should become overweight or obese on purpose.

A Korean study collected data based on interviews with 542 people who had an average age of 74. Scientists discovered that health-related quality of life factors, such as social functioning, emotional health, and pain, are not made worse by a higher BMI in older adults.

Additional research suggests that older adults who do not have a low BMI enjoy more independence. In fact, a study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics found that older adults with BMIs over 30 did not experience a decline in activities of daily living.

Health Risks and Challenges

While this data is interesting, it does not mean you should avoid shedding pounds if you are overweight. We know that a number of chronic health conditions are made worse when you are overweight.

These health issues include:

But of equal concern is how low body weight negatively affects an aging body and the managing of chronic illnesses.

There are no official recommendations on what the ideal weight range or BMI should be for people over 65. Experts recommend that every effort should be made to ensure older adults don't lose weight as a result of illness or poor nutrition.

It can be difficult to avoid weight loss if you have chronic disorders that are associated with poor nutrition. Many conditions, such as cancer, gastrointestinal disease, and neurological disease, can cause problems that prevent older adults from getting enough nutrition. This will cause a low BMI, often for the first time in their lives.

Being underweight increases the risk of developing serious health problems. And it decreases your chances of recovering from illnesses. For example, underweight stroke survivors have worse outcomes than stroke survivors who are overweight or average weight. 

Scientific data doesn't tell us what the ideal weight patterns are for a long life. But we do know from studying people who make it to 100 that being a healthy weight seems to be an important part of living a long life.

Weight Maintenance Goals

When trying to stay healthy, you should work with your doctor to set the right goal for you. Despite charts and calculators, target BMI is not the same for everyone. You may need to factor in additional considerations.

If you have diabetes, for example, your doctor may recommend that you lose weight. But your doctor may ask you to try to eat more nutritious food if you have a condition such as anemia.

As you get older, some situations make it more challenging to adjust to your target BMI. These factors include:

  • Health issues
  • Changes in activity level
  • Medications
  • Changes in your metabolism

As you face these challenges, you may need the help of a nutritionist. A nutritionist can guide you as you set your caloric goals. Nutritionists can also help you decide whether you need to take vitamin and mineral supplements.

What is just as important is to recognize when weight loss is taking place. It's also important to take steps to correct it before you lose too many pounds.

When you are an older adult, extreme weight loss doesn't have to happen. If you are losing too many pounds, it may simply mean you are not achieving the ideal dietary goals for your age. It may also mean you have a health concern that your doctor needs to investigate. It's important to take early action if you are underweight.

Weight Gain Tips for Older Adults

  • Add foods with a high calorie-to-volume ratio into the diet, including nuts, nut butters, avocados, dried fruit, whole grains, pasta, chocolate, cheese, and full-fat dairy.
  • Eat five to six smaller meals per day rather than the traditional three.
  • Make sure you have a protein intake of 1 gram per kilogram per day.
  • Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over food. It delivers 887 calories per 100 grams.
  • Prepare high-calorie meals, such as soups and casseroles, in bulk quantities so that they are always on hand.
  • Speak to your doctor about the appropriate nutritional supplements.

Summary

Your BMI is a sign of your overall health. Doctors recommend most adults keep their BMI between 18 and 24.9. Adults with a BMI over 25 are considered obese. On the other hand, older adults do better if they have a BMI between 25 and 27. Research shows that adults over 65 who are underweight experience more health issues and shorter life expectancy.

A licensed nutricianist can help you determine the best foods for your health. They can also help you select vitamins and mineral supplements to improve your nutrition.

A Word From Verywell

Trying to keep a healthy BMI can be extremely frustrating. Some people struggle with being underweight while others battle against being overweight. If you are an older adult and find that you are having problems keeping a healthy weight, talk to your doctor or nutritionist. They can provide you with the tools you need to eat the diet that's best for your body and unique situation.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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