Older women who maintain their weight twice as likely to have ‘exceptional longevity’

SAN DIEGO — Women who either gain or lose weight after the age of 60 are less likely to live into their 90s compared to those who maintain a stable weight, according to a new study. This finding contradicts general health recommendations that advocate for weight loss in older women to prolong their lifespan.

Conducted by the University of California San Diego, the study analyzed data from 54,437 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). Established to explore the causes of chronic diseases among postmenopausal women, the WHI found that 56% of its participants, or 30,647 women, survived to the age of 90 or older.

The study demonstrated that women over 60 who maintained a stable weight were 1.2 to 2 times more likely to achieve exceptional longevity, defined as living past 90, compared to those who lost 5% or more of their weight. Women who lost weight unintentionally were 51% less likely to live to 90. Interestingly, gaining 5% or more in weight was also not associated with exceptional longevity, highlighting the importance of weight stability.

“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,” says Dr. Aladdin Shadyab, the study’s first author and an associate professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego, in a media release. “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.”

Researchers note that women who lost more than 5% of their weight purposefully were also less likely to live longer. They suggest, however, that shedding those pounds may not have been a result of their weight loss regimen. “Although we found that women who reported intentional weight loss had lower odds of longevity, it is possible that some proportion of self-reported intentional weight loss in actuality was unintentional weight loss,” they write in their paper.

Still, the authors caution that women advised by their doctors to lose a moderate amount of weight to improve health and quality of life should continue to heed that advice.

This study is the first extensive examination of how weight changes later in life correlate with exceptional longevity.

The findings are published in the Journals of Gerontology.

South West News Service writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.