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Healthy weight as you age

The impact of weight on life expectancy

By Baier Rakowski, DO, family medicine

Senior woman stretching in swimming pool

A thousand miles south of Portland lies the country’s only “Blue Zone” — one of the five places in the world where people live the longest. In this small community of Adventists in Loma Linda, Calif., people live an average of 10 years longer than the rest of the United States. What accounts for their remarkable longevity? It’s not about where they live, but how they live: they follow a healthy, vegetarian diet, get regular exercise, abstain from smoking and drinking, and, as a result, maintain a healthy weight.

The impact of weight on life expectancy has been well researched:

  • A recent study in the Lancet suggests that being either overweight or underweight can reduce life expectancy by about four years.
  • A study published by the National Institutes of Health found that 40-year-old nonsmokers lost about three years of life due to being overweight, and six to seven years to obesity — losses similar to those associated with smoking.

Beyond adding years to your life, maintaining a healthy weight can add life to your years, helping you to stay active, pain-free and independent well into your golden years. If issues such as arthritis, food insecurity, poor dental health, depression or chronic diseases make it challenging to keep weight in a healthy range, work closely with your doctors and dentists. We’re here to support you in living your best life!

Here are some tips that I share with patients:

Explore more plant-based eating

The benefits include better weight control, diabetes management, heart disease prevention and more. For more information, click here.

Move as much as you can

To maintain healthy weight, strength, balance and mobility, every little bit of activity helps, and the more the better.

If preparing meals is difficult

Choose prepared foods that list several grams of fiber and less than 30% of calories from fat on the Nutrition Facts label. And grab some pre-chopped veggies or salads in the produce department.

If getting enough calories is hard for you

Add nutrient-dense foods like nuts, seeds, berries and avocados to your meals and snacks. Try meal-replacement shakes and smoothies, too, and add extra protein powder.

If you are losing weight without trying

Talk to your doctor — unintentional weight loss can be a sign of a serious underlying disease.

Consider the impact of “the good life” on your real life

“Living it up” with excess alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food can dramatically affect your real-life health. Eating, moving and living for your best health is a much more rewarding recipe for a truly good life and lifelong well-being.