Excess calories is one of the biggest problems as we age

The biggest health challenge we face as we get older is not so much cancer, heart attack or diabetes, but its direct antecedent – the accumulation of fat in our tissues, which results from consuming excess calories.

Obesity is responsible for up to 70% of chronic disease and is a major contributor to age-related decline. Despite this, at least every second adult will become obese in their lifetime.

The main reason for this crisis is the combination of overeating and inactivity – an imbalance that tips the scales until we compromise our overall health. Here we look at our exposure to one of the most important elements of aging: calories.

The crisis of calories

Food provides the body with energy in the form of calories. Some of this energy is used in metabolism. Then our body stores any excess calories as fat.

It is not only the fat we eat that our body stores as fat, but also the excess energy from too much sugar and protein. If calories in whatever form exceed our needs, fat storage swells, particularly under the skin, and in the buttocks and breasts (peripheral fat).

If this excess continues, our body creates additional storage capacity, particularly around the internal organs (visceral fat).

Visceral fat

Unlike peripheral fats, visceral fat is less efficient and far more dangerous to have around the waistline. This is because fat cells are not simply lifeless lumps of lard, but dynamic regulators of health and wellbeing.

All fat, but especially visceral fat, can cause a release of chemical factors that interfere with metabolism, the immune system and many other functions. Fat deposits can also have a direct physical effect.

For example, fat around the organs can squeeze them, reducing their blood supply and raising our internal (core) temperature. Fat in the lining of our blood vessels can also serve to clog up, and ultimately block, the flow of blood.

Calories and cell division

Our fat deposits are neither the only consequence, nor the only part of the body, to be affected by consuming excess calories and overeating.

In most cells, increased energy supply means faster growth and a shortening of the time between cell divisions (because it takes less time to build up the stores required to turn one cell into two).

Since age is measured at the cellular level by the number of times a cell has divided, aging is faster when calories are in excess. Conversely, when the intake of calories is limited, the time between cell divisions becomes longer, so when compared to the calendar, aging appears to slow.


Obesity is a major cause of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases and every year it accounts for many deaths globally.

Therefore, it is important to exercise regularly, eat healthy foods and maintain a healthy body weight to enjoy a long and fulfilling life.

Professor Merlin Thomas talks here about the problems associated with excessive calorie intake:

Last reviewed 03/Jun/2017

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Dr Merlin Thomas

Professor Merlin Thomas is Professor of Medicine at Melbourne’s Monash University, based in the Department of Diabetes. He is both a physician and a scientist. Merlin has a broader interest in all aspects of preventive medicine and ageing. He has published over 270 articles in many of the worlds’ leading medical journals

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