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Not All Weight Loss Is Good: The Counterintuitive Finding That Could Extend Your Lifespan
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Not All Weight Loss Is Good: The Counterintuitive Finding That Could Extend Your Lifespan

Sep 5, 2023
Glowing Human Lifespan Longevity

A study found that older women who maintained their body weight after age 60 were more likely to reach exceptional longevity compared to those who lost 5% or more of their weight. Gaining weight did not affect the odds of achieving exceptional longevity, challenging general recommendations for weight loss in older women.

According to a study led by the University of California San Diego, older women who maintained their weight after turning 60 had a greater likelihood of living to 90 or beyond, referred to as exceptional longevity. These women were 1.2 to 2 times more likely to reach this milestone compared to those who lost 5% or more of their body weight.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, analyzed the relationship between weight fluctuations in later life and longevity among 54,437 postmenopausal women participating in the Women’s Health Initiative. This long-term study aims to explore the root causes of chronic illnesses in postmenopausal women. During the follow-up period, 30,647 participants, or 56%, lived to the age of 90 or older.

Aladdin H. Shadyab

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. Credit: UC San Diego

Women who lost at least 5 percent of weight were less likely to achieve longevity compared to those who achieved stable weight. For example, women who unintentionally lost weight were 51 percent less likely to survive to the age of 90. However, gaining 5 percent or more weight, compared to stable weight, was not associated with exceptional longevity.

“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,” said 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.”

The findings suggest that general recommendations for weight loss in older women may not help them live longer. Nevertheless, the authors caution that women should heed medical advice if moderate weight loss is recommended to improve their health or quality of life.

The data expands on the growing research linking the relationship between weight change and mortality. Notably, this is the first large study to examine weight change later in life and its relation to exceptional longevity.

Reference: “Association of Later-Life Weight Changes With Survival to Ages 90, 95, and 100: The Women’s Health Initiative” by Aladdin H Shadyab, Ph.D., JoAnn E Manson, MD, DrPH, Matthew A Allison, MD, MPH, Deepika Laddu, Ph.D., Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., RDN, Robert A Wild, MD, MPH, Ph.D., Hailey R Banack, Ph.D., Fred K Tabung, Ph.D., Bernhard Haring, MD, MPH, Yangbo Sun, MD, Ph.D., Erin S LeBlanc, MD, MPH, Jean Wactawski-Wende, Ph.D., Meryl S LeBoff, MD, Michelle J Naughton, Ph.D., MPH, Juhua Luo, Ph.D., Peter F Schnatz, DO, Ginny Natale, Ph.D., Robert J Ostfeld, MD, MSc and Andrea Z LaCroix, Ph.D., 29 August 2023, Journal of Gerontology.
DOI: 10.1093/gerona/glad177

Co-authors include: Matthew A. Allison and Andrea Z. LaCroix, UC San Diego; JoAnn E. Manson, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Deepika Laddu, University of Illinois Chicago; Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Linda Van Horn, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; Robert A. Wild, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center; Hailey R. Banack, Dalla Lana School of Public Health; Fred K. Tabung, Ohio State University; Bernhard Haring, University of Wurzburg and Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Yangbo Sun, University of Tennessee Health Science Center; Erin S. LeBlanc, Kaiser Permanente; Jean Wactawski-Wende, University at Buffalo – SUNY; Meryl S. LeBoff, Harvard Medical School; Michelle J. Naughton, Ohio State University; Juhua Luo, Indiana University Bloomington; Peter F. Schnatz, Reading Hospital/Tower Health; Ginny Natale, Stony Brook University; and Robert J. Ostfeld, Montefiore Health System.

This research was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (75N92021D00001, 75N92021D00002, 75N92021D00003, 75N92021D00004 and 75N92021D00005).

Disclosure: Robert J. Ostfeld, MD, MSc, declares research grants from Purjes Foundation and Greenbaum Foundation, and is an advisory board member of Mesuron, Inc. with stock option interest.


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