How weight affects life expectancy as study finds women who keep scales steady after 60 will live longer

Woman stands on scales as study finds that weight gain and weight loss can affect life expectancy. (Getty Images)
Weight gain and weight loss can affect life expectancy. (Getty Images)

Women who either gain or lose weight after turning 60 have less chance of seeing their 90th birthday, a new study has found.

Those with a stable weight, however, are more likely to have ‘exceptional longevity’, which is defined as living over the age of 90.

The large-scale study from the University of California San Diego and published in the Journal of Gerontology looked at data from 54,437 women.

It found that 30,647 (56%) of the participants survived to the age of 90 or beyond.

Happy, carefree mature women friends with yoga mats walking and talking in park
Women over 60 in a health weight range should aim to maintain their weight to live longer. (Getty Images)

The study showed that women over 60 with stable weight were 1.2 - 2 times more likely to achieve longevity compared to those who experience a weight loss of 5% or more. The women who unintentionally lost weight were 51% less likely to survive to the age of 90.

"If ageing 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," study author Dr Aladdin Shadyab said. "Our findings support stable weight as a goal for longevity in older women."

However, the study authors said that women who are overweight or obese who are told by their GPs to lose a moderate amount of weight should still attempt to do so.

How weight affects life expectancy


It is well known that being overweight or obese can have an impact on your health, but did you know that obesity can reduce your life expectancy by as much as three to 10 years?

The NHS says that obesity can lead to a number of serious health problems including:

  • type 2 diabetes

  • high blood pressure

  • high cholesterol

  • metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity)

  • several types of cancer including bowel, womb and breast cancer, liver disease and kidney disease among others

Obesity can be cause by any number of things, but the best way to increase your life expectancy is to follow a healthy diet and do regular exercise to decrease your BMI (body max index) until it is under 30.

Losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight can add years to your life.

While weight loss can involve physical changes, talking or CBT therapies can also be useful to help with the emotional and mental aspects of obesity.

Unexpected weight loss

Unexpected or unintentional weight loss is when you lose weight without changing your diet or exercise routine. While this can sometimes be caused from stress or major life events like a divorce or losing a loved one, it can also be the sign of an underlying health condition.

The NHS says that some conditions that can cause unexpected weight loss include:

  • overactive thyroid

  • type 2 diabetes

  • heart failure

All of these can have an effect on your life expectancy.

woman doctor
If you experience any unexpected weight loss, make an appointment with your GP. (Getty Images)

Eating disorders

People with eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia have a higher risk of dying prematurely, a recent UK study found.

While bulimia can double the risk, those with anorexia have a 5.8-times greater risk of dying early. Those diagnosed with anorexia in their 20s have 18 times the risk.

Around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, including bulimia, anorexia and binge eating disorder (BED).

Anyone can develop an eating disorder and your risk is higher if you have a family history of it, have mental health issues such as trauma, anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, a history of weight bullying, and stress.

While there is no way to prevent an eating disorder, it's important that you seek help as soon as possible if you notice you or your child has the signs of one.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible to discuss a treatment plan.

Otherwise, you can call BEAT’s eating disorder adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711, which are open between 1pm to 9pm during the week, and 5pm to 9pm on weekends and bank holidays.