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Maintaining stable weight dramatically increases odds of living 100+ years

Researchers have found that for women over the age of 60, maintaining a stable weight could significantly increase their chances of living up to 90, 95, or even 100 years old. The study indicates that weight loss in later life could perhaps even work against the goal of exceptional longevity.

However, the experts emphasized that women should still follow medical advice when weight loss is recommended to enhance their health or quality of life.

Exceptional longevity 

Exceptional longevity refers to the phenomenon of living significantly longer than the average lifespan of a given population. This is often observed in certain individuals who live to be 100 years old or more, known as centenarians. 

Genetic factors, lifestyle choices such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking, as well as a positive mental attitude, are all thought to contribute to achieving exceptional longevity.

Focus of the study

The research was focused on data from more than 54,000 women over the age of 60 who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative, a prospective study investigating causes of chronic diseases among postmenopausal women.

The researchers compared women who kept their weight broadly stable over three years to those who lost at least 5 percent.

During the follow-up period, over 30,000 women, or 56% of the participants, survived to the age of 90 or beyond. 

Conclusion about exceptional longevity

The comprehensive study revealed that older women with a more stable weight were 1.2 to 2 times more likely to achieve exceptional longevity compared to those who lost 5 percent or more of their weight. 

The researchers found that women who lost weight were 38 percent less likely to reach the age of 100, 33 percent less likely to make it to the age of 90, and 35 percent less likely to reach the age of 95.

When the experts looked at separate groups, the results were similar among women who were overweight, obese, or had a normal weight.

Weight loss

The study also revealed that women who unintentionally lost weight were 51 percent less likely to survive until the age of 90. 

Among this group of women, who lost weight without trying, about a third said it was due to illness, 23 percent blamed stress, and almost 29 percent had a poor appetite.

Weight gain

Furthermore, the results showed that gaining 5 percent or more weight, as compared to maintaining a stable weight, was also not linked with exceptional longevity.

Exceptional longevity and stable weight

Study first author Aladdin Shadyab is an associate professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at the University of California, San Diego.

“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.” 

“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,” Shadyab said in a university news release.

Shadyab also pointed out that unintentional weight loss in aging women could be a red flag for ill health and a predictor of decreased longevity.

However, unintentional weight loss is a common occurrence in older adults and is not always related to an underlying medical cause. 

Study implications 

The study authors noted that their findings challenge the general recommendations for weight loss in older women, as it may not necessarily contribute to their longevity. 

The study is the first of its kind to examine how weight changes among older women may affect the potential for exceptional longevity.

The research contradicts the general recommendation that older women should lose weight for better health. It sheds light on the complex relationship between weight and longevity in older women, highlighting the importance of maintaining a stable weight as a key goal.

This research, published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, received partial funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

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