Excess body fat affects more than three in four Americans. It paints a frightening picture of the state of health of our aging population, especially when we consider the effects of excess body fat on the aging body. Too much fat and unhealthy eating can lead to vascular disease, diabetes, and a host of other health conditions. Excess body fat is not just an eyesore, it’s also deadly over time.
Excess body fat and related health conditions put an excessively heavy burden on our healthcare system. What frustrates healthcare practitioners the most is that all of the conditions related to excess body fat are preventable and, in many cases, reversible with weight loss and a change in diet. Understanding how excess body fat affects the aging body is a good first step to understand how bad it is for the human body, and the first step toward making a change to reverse the problem.
Here are a few ways excess body fat affects the aging body:
Body fat does not sit idly as you go about your day. It has its own metabolism and produces its own hormones to trigger its own inflammation when needed. The body stores fat in the same way that we store food in our refrigerators. A refrigerator produces cold air in a warm-air location and maintains a carefully regulated environment to keep perishable food from spoiling. Fat is stored energy, or food, and it also requires a carefully regulated environment to preserve. The human body dedicates a large number of resources to create the conditions necessary to store fat. As adipose tissue releases inflammatory hormones in the bloodstream, the natural hormone cycle of the body is affected. In men, this can present as low testosterone. In women, it can exacerbate weight gain and cause a host of other problems.
Excess body fat has a known and well-documented effect on the vascular system. Particularly, excess body fat can cause high blood pressure. Diets high in fat are also often high in sodium, which further increases blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure distends the walls of the vascular system (including veins and arteries). Distended artery walls in the heart accumulate more plaque, which leads to heart attacks; distended veins in the brain can lead to a stroke.
High blood pressure wreaks havoc on the whole body. The kidneys – which filter out toxins from the body – are especially prone to damage from this problem. Over time, as kidney function declines, more and more toxins build up in the blood, leading to other organ problems.
Organ function problems
A condition called fatty liver disease, where the liver is overburdened by fat deposits, can lead to hepatitis and, eventually, cirrhosis.
Excess body fat is most evident on the outside, but it also builds up on the inside. All organs have a protective layer of fat on them. In fact, this base layer is essential to their function. But when an excess of it builds up, it can interfere with the normal function of these organs. This is true of the heart, the liver, the spleen, and the pancreas. Fatty deposits on the liver, especially, can cause inflammation and swelling that interfere with its many functions, including cleaning the blood, supplying nutrients to the rest of the body, and regulating hormones. A condition called fatty liver disease, where the liver is overburdened by fat deposits, can lead to hepatitis and, eventually, cirrhosis.
Carrying around excess body fat puts extra pressure on the skeletal system, which is not designed to carry around dozens of extra pounds. Combined with a sedentary lifestyle, excess body weight eventually leads to a breakdown of the joints in the knees, hips, and ankles. The breakdown of the joints can cause severe pain, and dissuade the sufferer from exercising. However, exercise is crucial to reverse some of these problems.
Joints also suffer when hormonal problems are present. Excess body fat not only stresses joins from the extra weight but can also affect joints by releasing excess inflammatory hormones into the blood that supply the joints with their nutrients. This inflammation can lead to chronic arthritis at an earlier age. Over time, these problems can compound and lead to severe mobility problems in older adults.
Is sitting the new smoking?
Modern society’s sedentary lifestyle is increasingly recognized as a major health risk. In tandem with excess body fat, it poses a significant risk to health and longevity in our aging population. Healthcare researchers and practitioners have cautioned for years of the dangers of being overweight. They also warn that obesity-related health problems place unnecessary stress on our healthcare system. For aging adults, it is of the utmost importance to maintain a healthy weight and participate in the recommended amount of exercise.