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A new study suggests that senior women who maintain a stable weight have a greater likelihood of living to be 90 and older. Oliver Rossi/Getty Images
  • A new study reports that maintaining a stable weight is linked with greater longevity in older women.
  • However, those who lost weight, especially if it was unintentional, were less likely to reach the age of 90.
  • Experts say people who live longer may eat well and exercise, leading to better metabolic health.
  • Diet, exercise, stress management, good sleep, and social support can all help with weight management.

While human longevity appears to have an upper limit (the oldest age reliably recorded is the 122-year lifespan of a woman from France named Jeanne Calment) there are several things that can affect how likely we are to reach a ripe, old age.

Scientists say that a combination of genes, environment, resiliency, and just plain luck can factor into the equation. And, it now appears that weight changes in later life might also play a role.

A new study published online in the Journal of Gerontology reports that women over the age of 60 who maintained a stable weight were more likely to experience what the authors referred to as exceptional longevity.

Exceptional longevity, according to the authors, was defined as living to the age of 90 or older.

For the purposes of the study, weight stability was considered to be having less than a 5% variation from baseline weight.

The multi-institutional study, which was led by researchers out of the University of California San Diego, examined how weight variations in older women affected their likelihood of living a longer life.

Altogether, 54,437 women who were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) took part. The WHI is a long-term national study aimed at identifying ways to prevent the major causes of death and disability among older women, including heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and osteoporosis.

During the study, 30,647 women (56%) lived to at least age 90.

The team looked at the data to see if there were any links between weight changes, as well as the intentionality of those changes, and whether women lived to the ages of 90, 95, and 100.

The women’s weight was measured at the beginning of the study, at year 3, and at year 10.

If there was a 5% or greater decrease from the baseline weight, they were deemed to have had weight loss. If there was a 5% or greater increase, then they were classified as having weight gain. If there was not at least a 5% change in either direction, they were considered to have a stable weight.

The women were also asked to report whether their weight loss at year 3 was intentional.

Upon analysis, it was found that weight maintenance was associated with greater longevity.

Additionally, older women who kept a stable weight were 1.2 to 2 times as likely to reach an older age in comparison to those who lost 5% or more of their weight.

Further, it appeared to matter whether the weight loss was intentional. Unintentional weight loss was more strongly associated with lower odds of living to be 90 or older.

Gaining weight, however, was not associated with exceptional longevity.

Dr. Shara Cohen, Founder and Director of Cancer Care Parcel, said a couple of different mechanisms might be responsible for this phenomenon.

“Firstly,” she said, “stable weight may indicate a well-balanced and consistent dietary pattern. Individuals who maintain their weight are more likely to follow a diet that provides essential nutrients and avoids extremes in caloric intake.”

Cohen noted that nutritional stability can have a positive effect on metabolic health, thereby reducing the risk of chronic disease, which can contribute to longevity.

A second factor, according to Cohen, is that a stable weight can indicate that a person has an active lifestyle.

“Regular exercise not only helps in weight management but also enhances cardiovascular health, maintains muscle mass, and supports overall bodily functions,” she explained.

“Engaging in physical activity can counteract age-related muscle loss and metabolic decline, promoting a longer and healthier life.”

Mary Sabat, MS, RDN, LD, a Nutritionist and Ace Certified Trainer, advised that older women who are seeking to maintain a stable weight in order to live a longer and healthier life should consider the following strategies:

  • Eat a balanced diet. Sabat suggests eating whole foods, including a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. It is also wise to avoid processed foods, sugary snacks, and high-calorie beverages, she said.
  • Get regular physical activity. Cardiovascular exercises — such as walking, swimming, and biking — are great, as well as strength training. “Exercise helps maintain muscle mass, metabolism, and overall health,” she explained.
  • Practice portion control. “Be mindful of portion sizes to avoid overeating,” said Sabat. “Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues and avoid eating out of boredom or stress.”
  • Manage your stress. “Chronic stress can contribute to weight gain or loss due to hormonal changes,” she noted. “Engage in relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga to manage stress effectively.”
  • Stay hydrated. Sabat suggests drinking plenty of water throughout the day. “Sometimes, thirst can be mistaken for hunger, leading to unnecessary snacking,” she noted.
  • Get regular check-ups. “Regular medical check-ups can help identify any underlying health issues that might affect weight stability,” said Sabat. “Addressing these issues promptly can support overall health.”
  • Get good sleep. Sabat said that it’s important to make it a priority to get a sufficient quantity of restful sleep, explaining that poor sleep can disrupt the hormones related to appetite and metabolism.
  • Seek out social support. “Surround yourself with a supportive social network,” urged Sabat. “Engaging in healthy behaviors with friends or family can make it easier to maintain a stable weight.”