What effect does age and physical activity status have on appetite and mood state in older adults?

The Introduction

Research has consistently shown that as adults age they experience a decline in appetite and food intake. Low- to moderate-intensity exercise has been shown to have little effect on appetite in younger people over one day. However, hard training has been shown in younger people to actually decrease hunger for the 15-60 minutes after exercise. But does it have the same effect on physically active people such as masters athletes who might train hard regularly. Research has also shown that aerobic fitness and is a strong predictor of overall vitality and less mood disturbances. Again, what effect might hard training have on mood states over a day?

The Research

eatingThis study examined the influences of age and chronic physical activity status on appetite and mood state. Groups of younger inactive (25 ± 1 yr), younger active (25 ± 1 yr), older inactive (69 ± 1 yr), and older active men and women (72 ± 1 yr), completed questionnaires each waking hour. Active was defined as doing moderate physical activity on four or more days a week. The questionnaires rated appetite, mood (stress, depression, excitement, relaxation) and emotional (high arousal, sleepiness, pleasant feelings, unpleasant feelings) state for one day.

The Results

As expected, aerobic capacity was 20% lower in older than in younger subjects, and 32% lower in inactive than in active subjects of each age group. Mean hunger (older, 4 ± 1; younger, 5 ± 1 arbitrary units) and desire to eat (older, 3 ± 1; younger, 4 ± 1 arbitrary units) were lower in older than in younger subjects. The lowest mood arousal was higher for the active subjects (active, 3 ± 1; inactive, 2 ± 1 arbitrary units). The lowest arousal and pleasantness scores were higher for the older subjects.

The So Whats

The results suggest physical activity status and fitness levels do not influence appetite or the age-associated declines in hunger or desire to eat. However, the increased arousal levels and lower mood disturbance scores of the physically active and older groups are consistent with these people experiencing less extreme sleepiness. Thus, it appears that there is no affect of age on appetite in physically active older people and that we react the same as younger people in terms of the need to eat after exercise. Importantly for our health and wellness, being physically active means less mood disturbances and less drowsiness over a day, thus keeping fitter older people more alert over the day.

Photo from: Don Domingo

Apolzan, J., Flynn, M., McFarlin, B., Campbell, W. (2009). Age and physical activity status effects on appetite and mood state in older humans. Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism. 34(2): 203-211.