When it comes to living longer, many of us think that our best bet is losing weight. But a new study said that weight isn’t the best predictor of long and healthy lives in women. Instead, mobility, strength and balance impacted lifespan and wellness the most.
Lisa Underland and her colleagues looked at data from the Women’s Health Initiative, a study involving more than 161,000 volunteers in the U.S. running since 1992. They looked at the medical information of more than 5,000 women with an average age of 79. The data looked at the women’s physical strength, balance and mobility and how they changed over 14 to 18 years.
Women who performed well on the tests and maintained their strength, mobility and balance were 71 percent more likely to be alive after five years than those who performed the worst. What’s interesting is that women who lost weight were much more likely to die than those who didn’t. Someone who lost five percent of their body weight was 61 percent more likely to die within five years. The controlled for illness — removing anyone with cancer or medical conditions from their data sets. These weren’t people who lost weight because of ill health; it was people who were dieting.
“I have a lot of family members who are on the elderly side, and they talk a lot about losing weight,” said Dr. Underland. “There’s a lot of talk in the media, in our society and in medical circles about weight loss.”
This study shows that the frequent focus on weight loss might be missing the point. Of course, there are times when you have to lose weight for your health. But, weight loss in and of itself isn’t the only component of health. This study appears to underscore the importance of staying fit and active and working out. Working on balance and mobility can help you stay strong and athletic, enhance the quality of your life and avoid dangerous falls as you age.
One theory as to why losing weight might be detrimental in older people is that they are losing muscle, not fat. Losing bodyweight isn’t helpful if it’s your healthy muscle. That leads to a decline in physical strength and negatively impacts your mobility. It’s essential to keep muscle matter.
Dr. Underland said, “This information doesn’t tell everybody to go out and buy a bunch of Cheetos. Keep moving, eat a healthy diet – focus on that.”