Maintaining a stable weight may be more beneficial for the long run

Stable Weight for Longevity: No More Yo-Yo Dieting

Stable Weight for Longevity: No More Yo-Yo Dieting

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

If you thought weight loss was the key to longevity, you may be in for a surprise. A new study from the University of California San Diego found that women over 60 who maintained a stable weight (even when considered overweight) were more likely to reach exceptional longevity or live beyond age 90 than those who lost five percent or more of their baseline weight. Gaining weight wasn't correlated with longevity.

Researchers also assessed whether women who lost weight did so on purpose (aka from dieting)—or if it was unintentional (since unintentional weight changes could indicate disease and result in worse odds for longevity). Both sets of women were found to be less likely to live to a ripe old age than women without such scale fluctuations, but unintentionally losing weight had the worst odds.

"Our findings support stable weight as a goal for longevity in older women," concluded the study's lead author, Aladdin H. Shadyab, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Is there a correlation between weight and longevity?

Absolutely. As the study findings suggest, significant changes in body weight (especially unintentional weight loss) are not ideal for longevity, especially when these changes commence during a woman's later years. Researchers analyzed data from 54,437 postmenopausal women between ages 61 and 81 and evaluated various aspects of their health and chronic diseases. (All weights were self-reported.)

The changes in the women's weight were categorized in three ways:

  1. Weight loss when their weight decreased 5 percent or more from baseline
  2. Weight gain when their weight increased 5 percent or more from baseline
  3. Stable weight when there was a less than 5 percent change in their baseline weight

Results were compared to baseline in year 3 and year 10 of the study. By the third year, women who lost five percent or more of their baseline weight had 33 to 38 percent lower odds of survival to 90-to-100 years compared to those who maintained their baseline weight. And by the 10-year follow up, women who lost five percent or more of their starting weight had 40 to 49 percent lower odds of survival to 90 to 95. (Survival to age 100 wasn't measured due to an inadequate sample size.)

In other words, there was a 1.2- to 2-fold higher odds of survival to 90 and 100 years when women maintained their weight compared to intentional or unintentional weight loss.

Why Unintentional Weight Loss Is a Red Flag

What about those who unintentionally lose weight? This situation should be monitored closely because it could indicate underlying health concerns that can hinder your life expectancy. Paying attention to how your body weight fluctuates is key, especially if you're not deliberately trying to reduce your body size.

"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 authors noted.

Should you lose weight to live longer?

The answer to this question is: it depends, particularly after age 60. If a doctor advises weight loss to improve health and quality of life, patients should take this recommendation seriously, the researchers advised. Any intentional weight changes should be gradual and monitored by your doctor or nutritionist.

Avoid yo-yo dieting; it creates a weight-gain and weight-loss loop that can be detrimental to your metabolism and overall health—and lower your chances of a long and healthy life. Remember: weight loss should be gradual, allowing the body to find balance, and focusing more on sustainable daily habits that encourage health and well-being, which can result in a long lifespan.

What other factors contribute to longevity?

Now that you understand the relationship between body weight and longevity better, let's go over 10 ways to enjoy a long and healthy life.

  1. Best diet for the long haul:

    Eating balanced meals is not about dieting and restricting foods; it's about your daily eating patterns—think Mediterranean diet. Be sure to eat the rainbow, look for colorful fruits and veggies (purple cabbage, broccoli, red bell peppers, etc.) and always try to have protein, healthy fats (avocados, nuts, seeds, grass-fed butter) and fiber with every meal. Look for grass-fed meats, pasture-raised eggs, and wild-caught fatty fish (salmon, tuna or sardines).
  2. Stay active:

    There's an unequivocal plethora of health benefits that regular exercise confers for your body, including cognitive health, maintaining already-healthy blood pressure, keeping your body mass index in check, and, ultimately, contributing to a long life expectancy. The best exercise is the one you'll do regularly, whether that's dancing, biking, brisk walking, jogging, Pilates or yoga—engaging in physical movement throughout the day is the best way to help your body keep you healthy. Make time for full-body movement at least five days a week for 30 to 40 minutes a day (and stay moving so you don't become one with your couch). Pro tip: Add resistance training like weightlifting twice a week to help strengthen and maintain muscle mass, which is vital for staying healthy in the long haul.
  3. Prioritize restful, uninterrupted sleep:

    Giving your body the rest it needs is essential for overall health. Plus, getting at least seven to nine hours of quality sleep may lower the risk of cognitive decline, improving your quality of a long and healthy life.
  4. Weight stability:

    Aim to maintain a normal weight, and keep in mind that everyone has a unique biology, so your friend's healthy weight will not necessarily be "healthy" for you. Avoid extremes—underweight or obese—and find your body's "sweet spot" that allows you to enjoy your life and maintain your weight with sustainable daily habits.
  5. Thank you for not smoking:

    Ok, this one seems like a no-brainer, but it's worth repeating. Smoking is the antithesis of a healthy habit!
  6. Moderate alcohol intake:

    Research has shown that having an occasional drink once a week can be beneficial to your health, but overindulging in alcohol can do more harm than good. If exceptional longevity is your goal, don't be a barfly.
  7. Stay in touch with loved ones:

    Studies show that maintaining social connections, especially as you age, is one of the cornerstones of longevity. This includes while eating—make it a habit to break bread among friends and family. Research has also shown that eating alone can have a negative impact on cardiovascular health. Intimacy with a partner is also associated with longevity.
  8. Work out your noggin:

    It's never too early to be proactive about keeping your brain young. A large body of research has shown that learning new things (like a new language or how to play an instrument), doing puzzles, and practicing mindfulness (think meditation and yoga) are all excellent ways to maintain cognitive health and performance at any age. It also keeps you living longer, so it's a win-win!
  9. Have purpose at every age:

    Research shows that having things that drive you and bring meaning to your life is crucial for longevity. And that can be as simple as joining a book club, volunteering at animal shelters or hospitals, or even finding a new hobby!
  10. Take your genetics with a grain of salt:

    Yes, genetics play a role in longevity, but while genes may increase your predisposition to health concerns that could infringe on you longevity, that doesn't mean you're doomed to a shorter lifespan. And yes, your chronological age—how long you've walked this Earth—is the inescapable aspect of aging. But your biological age—which reflects multiple aspects of stress and aging on your body and DNA—can be much younger if you've adopted lifestyle habits associated with exceptional longevity. Pro tip: You can take a lab test to find out your biological age!

Summary: Body weight and life expectancy

Let's recap: Maintaining a stable weight, rather than weight loss, is fundamental to exceptional longevity, according to a recent study from the University of California. The study found that women age 60+ who maintained a stable weight, even when considered overweight, were more likely to live beyond age 90 than women who lost five percent of their body mass index (BMI). These findings highlight the correlation between weight and longevity. While it's true that being overweight, obese, or underweight hinders a person's longevity and quality of life, weight stability is a sign of good health and may mean a longer life.



About Our Story Sources

The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.