Healthy Aging

healthy aging

New Year's Resolution: Get Weight Right for a Longer Life

With another new year, we have some new scientific news that once again proves that to live longer there is something that you should do.  That’s right you have a say in your healthy aging.  Just in time for a New Year’s resolution, a report from the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that your overall size, (weight and height balance) are a primary indicator of all causes of mortality.  In short, if you wish to live as long as possible considering your health status, you should have a body mass index (BMI) of between 22.5 and 25. 

The first question is: what is your body mass index?  It is a simple calculation of your weight and height.  There are a number of ways to calculate it, but the Web site of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute gives you a calculator for quick and easy calculation.  Please go to the Web site and calculate your BMI.  The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute categorizes us according to BMI into four groups:  Underweight = <18.5, Normal weight = 18.5–24.9, Overweight = 25–29.9 and Obese = BMI of 30 or greater. 

These categories now have greater meaning according to the latest science.  People who are underweight or overweight and especially the obese have greater risk of death than those in the normal category.  This can be seen from the figure below that is made from the New England Journal paper.

Death as a function of BMI

Figure legend: The relative risk of dying is on the vertical axis and the higher the number on the vertical axis the greater the risk of dying compared to the group with the best survival.  The horizontal axis lists groups of BMI: 1 = 15-18.4, 2 = 18.5-19.9, 3 = 20.0-22.4, 4 = 22.5-24.9, 5 = 25.0-29.9, 6 = 30.0-34.9, 7 = 35.0-39.9, and 8 = 40.0-49.9.  If you are in groups 1 and 2 or 5 through 8, your chances of all causes of death are higher than if you are in groups 3 and 4.

When interpreting this graft for your use you must know your BMI (go to calculator to compute).  You place your BMI in one of the 8 groups and then look at the vertical axis to see your relative risk of dying compared to people who have a normal BMI.  If you are overweight or underweight, then your risk of dying is greater.  The curve is “J” shaped and the greater one is overweight the higher the chances of dying are. 

This graph came from the National Cancer Institute, but it is all cause mortality, meaning that the risk applies to death from any cause, not just cancer.  In fact, if one looks at heart disease, stroke and cancer – these predictions apply to those forms of death just like all.  The study came from a database of 1.5 million white adults whose median age was 58 years old of whom 160 thousand died.  The message is clear: weight, like age, is a major risk factor for death from everything. 

We cannot reduce the risk that age brings to us, the simple fact is the older we get the higher our chance of dying.  However, we can do something about our weight – not our height, but weight is a controllable factor in our lives.  The bottom line is – if one is over or underweight then do something about it.  If underweight make sure there is no disease causing it and if over, well start the new year reducing that one factor that can shorten our time on earth.

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