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Recently, I wrote about New Year’s resolutions and that, among those 50 years and older with resolutions, 25% are working on health/fitness goals–the largest category by far. We’ve found this focus on health and fitness in a variety of other research too. For example, AARP research shows that when many people are turning 50, they set a goal to lose weight and get in shape before that big day. In an AARP  study of conversations online about 50th birthdays, losing weight was the strongest theme within the 50th birthday conversations around achieving a goal. Typical quotes included: “Looking forward to losing this 50# by my 50th B-day in July.”

Our latest poll on weight loss shows a similar pattern. Two-thirds (69%) of those fifty years or older have tried to lose weight at some point, more than those age 18-49 (61%). Moreover, women are more likely than men to say they’ve tried to lose weight (73% vs. 56%). While nearly three-quarters of adults 50+ are satisfied with how much they lost, only about two-thirds were satisfied with their weight maintenance. This suggests that the 50+ are good at losing a little weight, but few really keep off all the extra pounds they hoped to.

By sixty, you need 20% less calories per day than when you were in your 20’s.

This is not a surprise as 90% of older adults say their weight loss strategy is to eat less. But as folks age, they need less food to stay at the same weight as their metabolism is slower. By sixty, you need 20% less calories per day than when you were in your 20’s. So losing weight by eating less as the only tactic to shed those pounds is not likely to work. No one can eat “rabbit food” forever. I hear nutrition experts talk a lot about buying food around the periphery of the store. That is where all the fresh fruits, vegetables  and fish are. However, exercise has to be in the equation and 93% of younger adults mention this as a way to achieve their weight loss goal (vs. only 80% of older adults). I know how important exercise is for my own weight maintenance goals. I try to walk four miles at least three times a week. In the winter this often does not work and I gain three pounds as a result. It takes six months for me to lose those pounds once I get back to walking.

A trigger event (wedding, after the birth of a child, divorce, 50th birthday) is often the motivating factor for wanting to lose weight. But once the decision is made, motivation is often aided by a support group. One of my colleagues at AARP joined a well-known weight loss program with her husband and together they lost 185 pounds over two years! They exercised relentlessly, even had a trainer and became points counters par excellence.  I had never noticed people talking about points, but now I notice when dining out with friends that someone will say that has “x points” even after they have reached their weight goal.

Unless you don’t like food (really!) losing any amount of weight is hard, but the payoff of reaching your goal and staying there can be life changing and fulfilling to you and those around you. Check out our fact sheet below for more information on our latest research on weight loss.

 AARP Research weight loss poll fact sheet

More Research from AARP:

Weight Loss among the 18+

2014 New Year Goals and Resolutions Poll

Becky Gillan is the senior vice president of AARP Research and is focused on fostering understanding of the interests and concerns of people age 50-plus and their families. Before coming to AARP, she served as the vice president of Global Market Research & Guest Satisfaction for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. In her spare time, she likes visiting her niece in Ohio, gardening and collecting American art and antiques.