Weight loss: the key to an anti-aging strategy

Body weight is the key to an anti-aging strategy. For most of us this means that weight loss is the key to maintaining health. I think highly of my cardiologist both as a doctor and as a person. And I am grateful that he frightened me badly enough to change to a healthier lifestyle, mainly by weight loss. At my last visit, he summarized my strategy, "Get rid of the doctor," he said, laughing.

Well that's not quite my strategy. I intend to visit once a year for him to do tests and tell me my risk markers are improving yet again.

Now that I am within 5 pounds (2 kg) of my weight at age 18, weight loss is no longer my goal: As I continue to lose fat and build muscle, my weight stays about the same.

I admit that I am delighted by the change in my appearance after losing 30 pounds (14 kg). That's not why I started my weight loss program, but it feels wonderful not to look like a penguin anymore. No, my reason for losing the weight was to avoid the "laundry list" of chronic diseases that usually come with old age: metabolic syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, kidney malfunction, fatty liver, arthritis, and Alzheimer's.

The improvement in appearance was a beneficial side-effect, but not the only benefit. Exercise and diet combine to produce weight loss painlessly, but exercise has independent benefits, such as increasing muscle and bone mass. As we age, improved balance and strength gained from exercise reduces the risk of breaking a hip by falling, a real killer.

My Strategy for Regaining and Maintaining Health

What inspired me is a book by another doctor, Robert Superko, co-founder of the prestigious Berkeley HeartLab in California. URL: http://www.bhlinc.com.

Laundry List of Complaints

This short quotation from Robert Superko's book, Before the Heart Attacks, gives us a brief glimpse into a cardiologist's mind as he tries to work out what is best for his patient, in this case weight loss as a means to avoid or cure what Dr. Superko calls a "laundry list of complaints".
Before the Heart Attacks
H. Robert Superko, M.D. & Laura Tucker

The Importance of Weight Loss by H. Robert Superko, M.D.

"Bill is a 69-year-old overweight diabetic with hypertension, and his cholesterol and metabolic numbers are getting worse and worse. He's already on a list of medications the length of my arm—his primary physician has him taking stuff for his joint pain and his diabetes, and now he's taking niacin, folic acid, and a high-blood pressure medication for me."

"He's not showing any signs of cardiac improvement, and I'm getting concerned that he's heading for real trouble. So what are my therapeutic options?"

"I could put him on even more drugs or increase the dosages of the drugs he's already on. It's a risk: He's going to have to accept the additional expense, side effects, and possible drug interactions as well as the very real possibility that more drugs won't work well enough."

"Or I could encourage Bill to take a step back and look at the real problem instead of treating its symptoms. The simple truth is that this guy has to lose weight. He's looking to me for answers because I'm the one in the white coat with the prescription pad. But there's nothing I can prescribe for him, no fancy medical wizardry, no sexy science, that would have as great an impact as losing those extra pounds. The most effective prescription I can give Bill is to encourage him to manage his diet and exercise programs so that he'll begin to burn more calories than he consumes, resulting in the loss of his excess body fat."

"Losing weight-even as little as 10 pounds!-would be better than all the medication prescriptions I could possibly write for him. It wouldn't cost him a cent, and it's a change that would impact every corner of his health, not just his heart. I'm willing to bet that every single item on that laundry list of complaints would improve dramatically if Bill lost some weight. Yes, it would improve his cardiac health, and we'd rapidly see the difference in his blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. But it would also radically improve his diabetes—A common disease in the overweight. It would help to improve the pain in his joints by relieving them of weight they're not designed to support. And it would make his wife happy. What's the 'downside'—having to shop for new pants?"

H. Robert Superko, M.D. with Laura Tucker, Before the Heart Attacks, Plume, Penguin, ISBN 0-452-28526-7 (paperback)