Obesity and Aging Are Linked

A just published paper makes the case that carbohydrate restriction with high-intensity interval training is the optimal combination to treat metabolic disease. Let’s take a look at why this combination makes the optimal lifestyle intervention to fight aging too, because obesity and aging are linked.

Obesity and aging are two sides of the same coin

Obesity and aging are quite similar; many health markers that change with aging are related to the same metabolic markers that change in obesity.

In healthy young people, markers of biological age increase from age 26 to age 38. Aging is apparent even then.

The markers that change (increase or decrease) are very similar to those that change with obesity. Hemoglobin A1c, cardiorespiratory fitness, waist-hip ratio, BMI, triglycerides, blood pressure, and HDL all change in aging as they do in obesity. See chart below.




Calorie restriction is the most robust and reliable anti-aging intervention, although intermittent fasting and a ketogenic diet may perform just as well. Based on those facts, it’s not hard to see why obesity and aging are related: less food (or less carbohydrates) leading to leanness and longer life; more food (or more carbohydrates) leading to obesity and shorter life.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., and is highly correlated to both aging and obesity. Some 90% of cancers occur in those over the age of 50, and about 50% in those age 70 or more. At the same time, obesity is responsible for about 40% of all cancers. Similar comparisons could be made with heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other health problems.

Virtually all of the health conditions associated with aging have insulin resistance as a component, just as obesity does.

Good insulin sensitivity is critical for health, and is inherent to being lean and muscular.

Staying lean and muscular as you get older

As I’ve written about ad infinitum on this site, as well as in my books, eating a diet of whole, unprocessed foods, with no added sugar, seed oils, or refined carbs, is essential to staying healthy, and essential to staying lean as you get older.

For staying muscular, strength training, which involves some form of resistance training, is the way to go. Like what I did today:

I’m 62, not that old, and what I did in the video above is certainly not setting any world records, even for my age. But few men or women are doing anything that strenuous. They’re being passive and sedentary, and getting old and fat.

Anyway, back to obesity and aging.

As the review mentioned above makes clear – and again, as I’ve discussed a lot – high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the most effective ways, in addition to weight training, to get and maintain good insulin sensitivity. In literally a few minutes every other day, HIIT can get you as fit as spending 45 minutes a day doing moderate-intensity continuous exercise (MICT, cardio, or aerobics).

Add carbohydrate restriction and you get instant benefits for insulin sensitivity. A mere three days of a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet can massively increase insulin sensitivity.

Fasting insulin is a very good measure of insulin sensitivity. (Other tests, like a glucose tolerance test with insulin also measured, are somewhat more accurate, but time-consuming and expensive and probably don’t add that much more value to the information you get from a fasting insulin.) My lifestyle of low-carb, whole-food eating, weightlifting, and a bit of HIIT gives me a fasting insulin of 2.9, which I’ll assert is in the low single-digit percentile for my age, or anybody’s age possibly.

Staying lean and muscular in aging: all there is to it?

Certainly people age even if they’re lean, even if they train for strength. I don’t want to give the impression that there’s nothing more to it. Even the fittest are going to die at some point.

What else can you do to retard aging as much as possible, and live to a time of technologies that reverse aging/

  • fast intermittently
  • ensure good vitamin D levels
  • dump iron
  • avoid seed oils like the plague, and ensure adequate omega-3 intake
  • avoid sugar
  • drink moderately (if you drink)
  • don’t be sedentary (even if you exercise)
  • sleep well

I’m probably forgetting a few things here, but if you do them, and follow the diet and exercise plans I recommend, you’ll be doing about 99% of everything necessary to fight both aging and obesity.

PS: For more on this topic, see my books Muscle Up, Stop the Clock, and Dumping Iron.

PPS: Check out my Supplements Buying Guide for Men.

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Leave a Comment:

Bill says October 22, 2017

Thanks for this PD. Again reminding of the basics. Thanks also for the short video of you doing dead weight lifting.

I was at the gym an hour or so after reading this post and did a set of them just because of seeing you do them. Felt good !

Rob H says October 23, 2017

Great post Dennis and very timely too: I saw this article on CNN today saying obesity is at an all-time high in the USA now, probably similar here in the UK: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/13/health/adult-obesity-increase-study/index.html You mention you currently do a ‘bit of HIIT’: what does your current regime look like? I have been doing full body, body-weight HIT resistance training at home on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and have just started doing 4 x 20 second running sprints with 30 second rest in between on Thursdays (MUCH harder than it sounds when going full out on each sprint). I’m debating whether to add this in on Tuesdays too – but don’t want to affect my recovery time from the HIT strength training or become overtrained.. What are your thoughts on this?

And as an aside, I know you currently do your HIT sessions with weights, but have you considered switching to bodyweight as advocated by Drew Baye, Ted Naiman, James Steele and Skyler Tanner amongst others? The reason I got rid of my weights was because the bodyweight sessions are so much quicker (no set up/ putting away time) and also a very much reduced risk of injury. I realised that when considering my exercise regime over the long term this reduced risk of injury has a much bigger impact than I realised when looking at it on a day to day basis. If you follow something like Drew Baye’s ‘Project Kratos’ the intensity is every bit as high as training with weights. The only issue may be that progression cannot be tracked so easily with body weight exercises – but that doesn’t bother me. As long as I’m going to failure each set I figure the progression will take care of itself.

    P. D. Mangan says October 23, 2017

    Hi Rob – mostly my intervals consist of either an all-out cycle bout at the end of my weight training, or a set of light deadlifts for reps, say 135 lbs x 15, done fast. Seems that every time I do a separate HIIT session, it eats way too much into my weight training recovery, so this system I have now works well for me. If it doesn’t sound like a lot, my weightlifting is kind of an interval session in itself; I move from set to set quickly and am getting good cardiovascular exercise with it. I just do the one interval at the end to make sure I’ve maxed out.

    As for body weight training, I can see the point of it, but I like lifting weights and I like going to the gym.

peter connor says October 29, 2017

The study confirms what I have observed all my life, which is that there are hardly any obese or even very plump people in their 90s..People I have known a long time who are clearly obese have been dying in their 50s, 60s and 70s….

    P. D. Mangan says October 29, 2017

    Indeed, long-lived people are virtually always lean.

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