How can seniors gain weight?

For seniors, healthy weight gain can be as much of a priority as weight loss! Learn the various ways seniors can gain weight.

3 min read

Many seniors struggle to keep themselves at a healthy weight, due to a variety of complex factors ranging from limited retirement income to disinterest, loss of appetite, health issues, and cognitive problems. Plus, sometimes we just feel old and over it! However, the lynchpin of a rewarding, active retirement is ensuring our bodies stay healthy.

The first step to gaining weight as a senior is eating healthy meals. Junk food may boost calories, but they are empty and will have negative health effects. Instead, prioritize a nutritionally dense healthy diet with sufficient fiber and protein. Lean into calorie-dense foods like nuts, nut butter, and cheese to help boost your calorie intake, too. Eat regular meals throughout the day instead of overstuffing yourself in one sitting.

The importance of nutrient-dense foods

It’s not just about the quantity of food you eat. It’s about the quality. You don’t want to load up on a ton of unhealthy junk food just to meet a weight goal.

Instead of focusing solely on increasing calorie intake, prioritize nutrient-dense foods that are rich in essential vitamins and minerals. Don’t forget the protein that is crucial for supporting muscle growth, immune function, and overall health!

Lean proteins such as poultry, fish, eggs, and legumes serve as excellent building blocks for muscle tissue. Incorporate healthy omega-3-rich fats from sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil to add richness and flavor to your meals while promoting satiety. Plus it can help boost your mood and ‘happy hormones’.

Integrate calorie-dense foods

Calorie-dense foods will help you with healthy weight gain, of course, but there’s a balance to strike. Again, avoid the junk food and empty, processed calories. While they may pack on weight, it will be neither healthy nor good for your body.

Instead, incorporate nutrient-rich yet calorie-dense foods such as nuts, nut butter, dried fruits, cheese, whole-fat dairy products, and healthy oils into your diet. These foods provide a concentrated source of calories and essential nutrients, so they are ideal additions to meals and snacks. Enjoy them in moderation to boost your overall calorie intake without feeling overly full or uncomfortable.

Embrace regular, balanced meals

Establishing a consistent eating schedule with balanced meals and snacks throughout the day is key to supporting healthy weight gain that makes you feel good. Aim for three main meals supplemented by two to three nutrient-rich snacks to provide a steady source of energy and nutrients.

Ensure each meal includes a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to support your weight gain goals while meeting your overall nutritional needs. Be mindful of portion sizes to avoid feeling overly full or uncomfortable, and to prevent issues like indigestion and heartburn. It also helps to learn to listen to your body's hunger and fullness cues properly.

Harness the power of strength training

Strength training exercises may not be the first thing you think of as an older person looking to build weight. However, keeping your muscles strong and elastic not only boosts muscle growth but will help you live a fuller, richer life as well. A strong body is the foundation of functional independence for seniors.

Look at resistance exercises such as weightlifting, bodyweight exercises, or resistance band workouts. These exercises offer more than enough resistance to stimulate your muscle fibers and boost your muscular endurance without being overwhelming or risking injury. Begin with light weights, bodyweight exercises, or resistance bands and gradually increase the intensity as you build strength and confidence.

If you have any worries about your current fitness, a fitness professional can help you develop a personalized strength training program perfectly tailored to your abilities and goals.

Stay properly hydrated

Ensuring you are well-hydrated throughout the day is essential for supporting bodily functions and optimizing your metabolism. Yes, you read that right! If your body is under-hydrated, you won't be able to pick up weight as you need due to a metabolic slowdown.

Aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day. You can carry a water bottle to help you remember. Also, consider incorporating hydrating beverages such as herbal teas, milk, or homemade smoothies into your routine. Avoid excessive consumption of sugary or caffeinated beverages, as these can contribute to dehydration and they don’t provide the nutrients needed for healthy weight gain.

Cultivate quality sleep habits

Quality sleep is an important element of health and well-being, particularly for seniors. Ironically, it gets very hard to sleep as you age, and you will find you need a lot less than your younger peers. Aim for seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.

What does sleep have to do with weight gain? Proper rest and ‘downtime’ supports metabolic processes, hormone regulation, and overall vitality. Plus you feel good, too! Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, create a comfortable sleep environment, and prioritize consistency and routine to help yourself drift off to restful, healing sleep.

Monitor your progress and adapt accordingly

If you put these tips into play, you will soon start seeing positive results. However, any health-focused activity like this isn’t a one-and-done thing. It pays to track your progress, from using a calorie tracker to make sure you are hitting your nutritional benchmarks to regularly weighing yourself and noting your progress on fitness goals.

Be patient and realistic with your expectations, as healthy weight gain takes time and consistent effort. You don’t want to pack on weight fast- that’s a recipe for ill health in itself and can hurt your joints and body.  If you're not seeing the desired results, consider consulting with a registered dietitian for some extra guidance and support. 

Address underlying health conditions

Certain medical conditions and medications will impact your ability to gain weight and can contribute to unintentional weight loss. If you're experiencing significant challenges with weight gain despite your best efforts, consult with your healthcare provider to identify and address any underlying health issues or medication conflicts.

The healthcare provider will conduct a thorough health evaluation, offer tailored recommendations, and prescribe appropriate treatment to support your healthy weight gain goals while managing any existing health conditions. If you are suffering from chronic pain that holds you back from exercise, they can help you manage and adapt.