A group of nursing home residents

Older women who maintain stable body weights after the age of 60 are more likely to live into their 90s than women who experience significant weight loss as they age, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of California at San Diego studied the association of later-life weight changes with their chances of achieving exceptional longevity, or living to the ages 90 to 100. The study appeared online Aug. 29 in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

Using data from a women’s health study of 54,437 postmenopausal women between the ages of 61-81, researchers found that 30,647, or about 56% of the participants, survived to the age of 90 or beyond. 

Researchers found that women who sustained a stable weight were 1.2 to 2 times more likely to achieve exceptional longevity compared to those who experienced a weigh loss of 5% or more. In particular, women who experienced unintentional weight loss were 51% less likely to survive to the age of 90.

“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 study’s first author Aladdin H. Shadyab, PhD, MPH, associate professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego, said in a statement.

The researchers did not find a significant difference in longevity for women with weight gain compared to those with stable weight.

“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,” Shadyad said in the release. “Our findings support stable weight as a goal for longevity in older women.”

The authors note that while general recommendations for weight loss in older women may not help them live longer, that women should nonetheless heed medical advice if moderate weight loss is recommended by their physicians to improve their health or quality of life.  

The research was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.