In middle age, many women experience weight gain and work hard to keep the numbers on the scale down with diet and exercise. Obesity can contribute to a number of chronic health conditions, but the cycle of losing and gaining weight may be more damaging than working to maintain a consistent body weight over time. A recent study of women with exceptional longevity found that women whose body weight remained stable over the years had a 1.2 to 2 times greater chance of living to 90 than those whose weight fluctuated.
As reported by The Washington Post, the study, published in the Journals of Gerontology used data from 54,437 women as part of the Women’s Health Initiative. The long-term study began in the 1990s and the women included were born on or before February 19, 1932.
Women who lost 5 percent or more of their body weight over the first three years of the 10-year study had a 33 percent lower chance of surviving to 90, 35 percent lower odds of making it to 95, and a 38 percent lower chance of living to 100 than their peers whose weight remained consistent. Women who unintentionally lost weight had 51 percent lower odds of surviving to age 90 than their study counterparts. Gaining weight was not significantly linked with living to a very old age.
Although older adults are often advised to lose weight to improve health and well-being, and dropping pounds can ease the stress on the heart and joints, weight loss is unlikely to increase survival to an extended age in older women. Still, doctors may recommend moderate weight loss to achieve positive health outcomes, especially among obese and severely obese older adults. Unintentional weight loss, however, should be monitored closely as an indicator of underlying health problems that could diminish lifespan in older women.