Are you a woman who wants to live to 90 and beyond?
Fascinating new research now suggests a new longevity factor: A certain weight is linked with greater longevity in older women. Our editorial team was intrigued. We’ve long wondered why some folks are lucky enough to attain exceptional longevity, defined as reaching the age of 90.
Many experts posit that it’s a winning combination of environment, genes, resiliency, and just luck. University of California, San Diego, researchers have another theory we’ll call the Goldilocks weight secret…
Their multi-institutional study revealed that exceptional longevity was 1.2 to two percent more likely for women who kept a stable weight after age 60. In other words, they didn’t weigh too much, and they didn’t weigh too little. They were, like Goldilocks might say, just right.
The link between weight changes and longevity
What is a stable weight anyway?
For this study, researchers defined weight stability as having less than a five percent variation from baseline weight. The researchers combed through data gathered from 54,437 women in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). This long-term national study seeks to identify ways to prevent major causes of death and disability among older women.
During the study, 56 percent of the women lived to at least age 90. The scientists were eager to find out why these fortunate 30,647 women attained exceptional longevity.
The team weighed the women at the beginning of the study, at year three, and finally at year ten. A five percent or greater decrease from the baseline weight was considered a weight loss. Conversely, a five percent or greater increase was deemed a weight gain. The scientists put women in the stable weight category if they stayed steady, not fluctuating five percent or more in either direction.
Intentional weight loss or not?
The most crucial longevity marker came at year three when women were asked to report whether any weight loss was intentional. Those who lost weight unintentionally were 52 percent less likely to survive to the age of 90. On the flip side, gaining five percent or more weight, compared to stable weight, also made them less likely to reach the exceptional longevity age of 90.
“It is very common for older women in the United States to experience overweight or obesity with a body mass index range of 25 to 35. Our findings support stable weight as a goal for longevity in older women,” says first author Aladdin H. Shadyab, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego.
“If aging women find themselves losing weight when they are not trying to lose weight, this could be a warning sign of ill health and a predictor of decreased longevity.” But the authors offer this caveat: Women should heed medical advice if moderate weight loss is recommended to improve their health or quality of life.
Tipping the scales for longevity
Dr. Shara Cohen, of Cancer Care Parcel, discussed the study in a Healthline.com interview. She believes there are two different mechanisms at play.1
“Stable weight may indicate a well-balanced and consistent dietary pattern,” she notes. “Individuals who maintain their weight are more likely to follow a diet that provides essential nutrients and avoids extremes in caloric intake.”
This “nutritional stability” can have a positive effect on metabolic health. This, in turn, may reduce the risk of chronic disease, which can contribute to longevity. The second factor, she says, is that a stable weight can point to a life filled with physical activity.
“Engaging in physical activity can counteract age-related muscle loss and metabolic decline, promoting a longer and healthier life.”
How do you maintain a stable weight? Turns out it’s the same recipe that we recommend for healthy aging. Eat a balanced diet, get daily exercise, manage your stress, and prioritize your sleep.
It’s also not a bad idea to practice portion control and avoid eating past fullness. Are you eating out of boredom or stress? A food journal can help monitor what you’re eating and how you’re feeling. It’s also important to try to surround yourself with folks who are also committed to engaging in healthy behaviors. A good social network is beneficial for both your body and your mind.
The Aging Defeated Team