A groundbreaking study conducted by the University of California – San Diego has unveiled a counterintuitive finding that defies conventional wisdom regarding weight loss in older women. The research suggests that older women who maintain their body weight after the age of 60 are more likely to achieve exceptional longevity, defined as living to the age of 90 or beyond. This revelation challenges the prevailing recommendations for weight loss among elderly women.
The study, recently featured in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, delved into the intricate relationship between weight fluctuations in later life and longevity. It examined data from an extensive cohort of 54,437 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term research initiative aimed at unraveling the origins of chronic illnesses in postmenopausal women. Remarkably, 56% of the participants reached the milestone of 90 years or older during the follow-up period.
The key findings of the study are as follows:
Maintaining Weight After 60: Older women who maintained their body weight after reaching 60 were 1.2 to 2 times more likely to attain exceptional longevity when compared to those who experienced a weight loss of 5% or more.
Weight Loss Implications: Women who unintentionally lost 5% or more of their body weight were found to be 51% less likely to reach the age of 90, suggesting that unintended weight loss may serve as a warning sign of potential health issues and a predictor of reduced longevity.
Weight Gain: Interestingly, the research did not find any association between gaining 5% or more weight and exceptional longevity when compared to women with stable weight.
Lead author Aladdin H. Shadyab, Ph.D., M.P.H., an associate professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego, emphasized the significance of these findings, stating, “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.”
Dr. Shadyab further noted that weight loss in aging women, when unintended, should serve as a red flag for potential health issues and a potential decrease in lifespan. However, he cautioned that these findings should not discourage elderly women from seeking medical advice if moderate weight loss is recommended to improve their overall health or quality of life.
This study contributes to the growing body of research that examines the complex relationship between weight changes and mortality. Notably, it stands as the first substantial investigation into weight changes later in life and their potential impact on exceptional longevity.
The research was a collaborative effort, with co-authors from various institutions, including UC San Diego, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and several others. Funding for the study was provided, in part, by the National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It’s important to note that Robert J. Ostfeld, MD, MSc, one of the researchers involved in the study, disclosed research grants from the Purjes Foundation and Greenbaum Foundation, as well as his role as an advisory board member of Mesuron, Inc. with stock option interest.
In conclusion, this pioneering study challenges conventional wisdom surrounding weight loss in older women, shedding new light on the importance of maintaining stable weight as a potential key to exceptional longevity. The findings underscore the complexity of the relationship between aging, weight, and health, providing valuable insights for both medical practitioners and aging individuals.