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5 Ways Obesity Ages You Fast

Obesity – Old Before Your Time

Male abdominal obesity.

The link between obesity and various diseases has been well-established. Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease are the best recognized diseases that are linked directly to obesity.

But there’s a long list of diseases that are triggered or accelerated by the adverse biological processes caused by obesity. These include many cancers, fatty liver disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

I discuss elsewhere how visceral fat – the type that’s stored in the bellies of most obese people as well as those whose overall weight is considered “normal” (see “Belly Fat – The Enemy Within“) – produces dangerous cytokine proteins that wreak inflammatory havoc on nearby organs.

This helps explain the higher rates of type 2 diabetes (pancreas injury), cardiovascular disease (heart injury), fatty liver disease (liver damage), kidney disease and a host of other diseased bodily processes directly attributable to excess visceral fat in the belly (“see “Obesity, Skinny-Fat & Disease” for more on this).

In short, obesity – including just abdominal obesity in those of otherwise normal (non-obese) weight – accelerates the aging process, rendering those who qualify old before their time. Fortunately, unlike aging, obesity can be reversed – but it requires motivation.

For some people, a better understanding of how obesity and excess belly fat accelerates their aging process may provide that motivation. As the fabulous Mills Brothers once sang, “No one wants to be…Old at 33”.

So let’s look briefly at five ways obesity accelerates aging and leads to higher risk for diseases normally associated with much older adults.

5 Ways Obesity Makes You Old

There are more than five ways that obesity makes you old before your time, but I’ll list just five of the more obvious ones for now.

1. Less Physical Activity – Excess weight puts greater stress on knee joints and accelerates the development of painful osteoarthritis that limits physical activity.  This results in a vicious cycle of physical decline that normally occurs in much older adults limited by osteoarthritis associated with advanced years;

2. Less Sleep – Sleep apnea is commonly associated with obesity, as are other forms of sleep deprivation. Like reduced physical activity, this feeds on itself by disturbing one’s hormonal balance that induces further over-eating and poorer sleeping patterns. This deprives the body of the essential restorative powers that sound sleeping patterns produce;

3. Increased Stress – Less sleep leaves us less capable of coping with life’s stresses. This again feeds on itself as stress-related over-eating is common. Stress itself is directly associated with virtually all disease processes, as it is inherently pro-inflammatory and lowers one’s immune resistance to disease;

4. Less Protective Omega-3 Fatty Acids – This and the final way that obesity accelerates the aging of your body and mind have to do with the poor nutritional quality of most diets consumed by obese individuals (there aren’t many obese vegetarians, after all). A recent study demonstrated that even those over age 65 benefit by increasing their intake of fish rich in healthful omega-3 fatty acids. It’s likely that most obese individuals are deficient in these omega-3 oils that were found to add 2.2 years of life to the older adults in this study – meaning they lose out on this life-extending benefit; and

5. Less Protective Vitamin D – Vitamin D at certain levels has been associated with lower risk of many diseases, including cardiovascular diseases (see “Vitamin D – How Much Is Too Much” for more). Not only are the diets of most obese people likely to be deficient in vitamin D, but this essential vitamin is stored in body fat. This means that less of it circulates throughout the bodies of obese individuals, depriving them of its protective benefits.

The Importance of Nutritional Quality

The following video gives a succinct overview of the importance of quality nutrition and physical activity in preventing disease:

This next video explains how obese children of 10-12 years of age have the vascular systems of a 45-year old:

 It’s Depressing

As the following video confirms, there’s also evidence that obesity causes brain shrinkage or atrophy commonly associated with aging, depression and other mental decline. Being depressed further weakens one’s will to lose excess weight, be more physically active – the best treatment for depression – or maintain other healthful lifestyle practices shown to extend one’s longevity.

All of these adverse biological effects of obesity – most of them self-perpetuating in that they compound one another and make it that much more difficult to break the cycle – help to explain the difficulty most people have in losing excess weight permanently and maintaining a healthy body weight. It can be done, however.

Unfortunately, our doctors generally aren’t much help – offering only surgery and drugs that bring their own risks of complications (see “Nutrition and Diet Are Your Best Medicine“). Many don’t even bother to offer these to their obese patients (see Our Healthcare Sucks and “Doctors’ Irresponsible Anti-Fat Bias“). 

There’s no shortage of weight loss advice, of course. Unfortunately, most of it is wedded to the notion of fast weight loss. That’s because they’re catering to our cultural obsession with doing things fast – our need for speed. According to Google, for every person searching online for “how to lose weight slowly”, there are over 1,500 people searching for “how to lose weight fast”.

Yet study after study shows that fast weight loss is more quickly regained – leaving you with a worsened body fat composition (more fat and less bone and muscle) than when you started. This, in turn, leaves you at increased risk for disease than when you started.

So it’s best to lose weight slowly – no more than a pound or two a week. Your chances of keeping it off permanently – at least most of it – are far greater than they are with the latest lose-weight-fast scam even when it works.

The take-home message here? Lose weight gradually, if you need to, in order to grow old gracefully – and not ahead of your time.

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23 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. David Patrick
    January 5, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    Looking for a quick and easy way to lose weight? You’re not alone. An estimated 50 million Americans will go on diets this year. And while some will succeed in taking the weight off, very few–perhaps 5 percent–will manage to keep all of it off in the long run.
    One reason for the low success rate is that many people look for quick and easy solutions to their weight problems. They find it hard to believe in this age of scientific innovations and medical miracles that an effortless weight-loss method doesn’t exist.
    So they succumb to quick-fix claims like “Eat All You Want and Still Lose Weight!” or “Melt Fat Away While You Sleep!”

  2. Lisa Best
    December 28, 2013 at 4:17 am #

    Good post to share with my closer ones who suffered with obesity…Its common problem now a day…ppl should know the basic facts abt it to act positively to control it

  3. Jacob
    December 19, 2013 at 2:15 am #

    Obesity does not only affects a person physically, but also psychologically. A man becomes lethargic and negativity fills the heart. The person goes through depression and may lose self esteem. It just takes a little effort everyday to live a healthy life.

  4. Richard Roonie
    December 13, 2013 at 7:14 am #

    You are very much right. Obesity decreases one’s age and also make person look older than his original age. This obesity is basically because of junk food. Moreover we can see that in today’s world no one do physical work everyone is used to only mental work.

  5. envirocivil
    December 10, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    This article Explains perfectly the effects of obesity on human health.It is a alarming sign for obese people and they should start working on proper diet plans and some good exercise.

  6. tina
    December 10, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    I am obese and after reading this article I am really thinking to set a timetable for exercise and proper diet.Thanks for sharing.

  7. Endodontics in royston
    December 3, 2013 at 2:49 am #

    As little I know about this, I know that obesity is difficult to treat and has a high relapse rate. Greater than 95% of those who lose weight regain the weight within five years. Obesity is not just a cosmetic consideration. It is a chronic medical disease that can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, gallstones, and other chronic illnesses.

    • John Lynch
      December 3, 2013 at 9:44 am #

      You left cancer and a host of other diseases off your list. Obesity is more of a precursor to these diseases – greatly increasing your likelihood of contracting not just one, but a combination of chronic medical conditions that can ultimately cut short your life. And you’re right – cosmetics is the least of its concerns, though it’s the one that motivates most overweight people to try to lose weight. It’s too bad our health isn’t a higher priority than our looks.

      As far as keeping off the weight you lose, it requires you ramp up your physical activity to burn more calories and counter your body’s metabolic adjustment to your new weight. Most people just don’t have the discipline to do that – and to sustain it.

  8. Apu
    December 2, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Obesity is terrible disease, I think!…gotta keep myself from that thing…Thanks for the post..I gotta keep my eyes open from now on..


    • John Lynch
      December 3, 2013 at 9:37 am #

      It’s a lot easier to keep excess weight off than it is to lose it and THEN keep it off. Just remain conscious – and conscientious – about what you eat, as well as your physical activity, and you’ll be fine. Thanks for commenting.

  9. John Lynch
    November 6, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    Well, cancer can metastasize throughout the body, too, if it’s left untreated. But you’re right – obesity has it’s own form of metastasizing, causing havoc in crucial organs and other bodily functions. And, of course, it increases cancer risk as well.

    We probably pay too much attention to cancer – the dreaded “C” word – and too little to obesity, probably because it’s more of a chronic and less of an acute condition. If we’re not going to die from it tomorrow, we don’t really pay much attention, do we?

    Maybe we need a fancy fat “scanner” and a “ribbon” campaign of some type…and maybe when we lose overweight celebrities at too young an age we should start saying what really killed them rather than their proximate (immediate) cause of death.

    I can dream, can’t I?

  10. stacy l
    October 27, 2013 at 12:42 am #

    Good information. The connection between obesity and health disorders is overwhelming, and though we cant control diseases as much as we would like to, we can do something about what we eat.

    • Aditi
      July 25, 2017 at 1:06 am #

      Nice post thanks for sharing.

  11. Jeff
    October 16, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    Great article John, and definitively something that should get people thinking. If simply being obese is not enough motivation for some people (as it’s clearly not), perhaps the looming possibility of diabetes or even an early death will motivate some people. Whether by exercise, diet or both – people need to take action and not just sit there.

  12. Chau Son
    October 5, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Hi John,
    Thank you for your great article.
    Most obese people suffer from metabolism syndrome that related to very high risk of cardiovascular disease, esp. Ischemic heart disease. Many people eat junk food nowadays. They become obese and become old earlier than the others. How should we let them know ? It is a big question.
    Thank you again.
    Chau Son

  13. Austin
    September 27, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Obesity definitely makes the aging process much quicker and more painful. If you are overweight it’s best to start exercising and eating right now, otherwise getting older is going to suck. Both men and women need to think about bone health and exercise will keep your bones strong, while healthy diet will help you recover from exercise and stay young. When I was diagnosed with low testosterone I knew my weight had something to do with it, and it did. So, I started working out, drinking protein shakes, consuming pine pollen and in a year I’ve seen amazing results.

  14. Donald Quixote
    August 28, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    When it comes to reducing obesity on an individual level I think the most important aspect is patience. Normal and usually more safe/healthy weight loss takes time and with a larger individual it could take a long time. Having patience as you make exercise part of your lifestyle is critical…results will come, just be patient.

  15. Erwin
    August 5, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Hi John,

    I like your article. I often hear that the older we get, the slower the rate of metabolism. This will cause the process of burning calories is not going properly, and the more calories are stored in the body as fat. CMIIW

  16. Abby Ang
    August 3, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    Hi John,

    Thank you very much for sharing this post. I totally agree. Obesity is a big problem. It is not healthy to be obese. So, we need to hit the gym and exercise and most especially we need to eat the right kind of foods and have a healthy lifestyle.


  17. Ajay
    August 2, 2013 at 3:00 am #

    Nice article with detailed info about how and what are the effects of obesity on your health. Didn’t knew that obesity can make you age fast.

  18. Richard Thompson
    July 5, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    The risks that come with being obese should be enough to motivate anyone to make a change. And let’s face it, no obese person wants to be obese. It isn’t a matter of want. Thorough study needs to go in to understand what your body wants and needs, and when. Exercise and diet aren’t usually enough. The timeline healthy weight loss occurs on is also something people don’t really like. You should be losing at most 1-2 pounds a week. This way, your body doesn’t rapidly lose muscle weight and healthy weight just for the sake of losing weight.

    • John Lynch
      July 9, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      Thanks for commenting, Richard. Your thoughts are completely in synch with those in my diet book I’m currently editing. One of its mantras is “Slow weight loss is permanent weight loss”, yet – as you note – most people are obsessed with “fast weight loss”.

      This, of course, is counter-productive – as fast weight loss is more easily regained, mostly as fat, while the lost weight is fat, muscle and bone. This leaves them with poorer body compositions and more vulnerable to disease.

      Thanks for weighing in (sorry) with such helpful insights. And amen to the importance of quality sleep, as well as stress reduction efforts. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight requires such a comprehensive and synergistic lifestyle approach.

  19. Robin
    April 4, 2013 at 2:43 am #

    Very true. Obesity is a big problem that makes you old before your time. So you have to make your diet plan and start exercising. I watched the video. It was fabulous.

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