Maintaining stable weight increases longevity among older women

Reaching the age of 90, 95 or 100, known as exceptional longevity, was more likely for women who maintained their body weight after age 60, according to a multi-institutional study led by University of California San Diego. Older women who sustained a stable weight were 1.2 to 2 times more likely to achieve longevity compared to those who experience a weigh loss of 5 percent or more.

Reporting in the Aug. 29, 2023 online issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, researchers investigated the associations of weight changes later in life with exceptional longevity among 54,437 women who enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative, a prospective study investigating causes of chronic diseases among postmenopausal women. Throughout the follow up period, 30,647, or 56 percent of the participants, survived to the age of 90 or beyond.

Women who lost at least 5 percent 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.

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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