Health

Want to Live to 90? Tall, Slim Women Have Best Chance, Scientists Find

A woman’s height and weight appear to play a greater part in her chance of enjoying a long life than a man’s, according to a study investigating a person's likelihood of reaching the age of 90. 

Women who are taller than average, standing at 5ft 9 inches or above, were 31 percent more likely to enter their ninth decade compared with those standing at 5ft 3inches or less, the study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggested. The same result wasn’t found in men.

Read more: The season you were conceived could affect how much 'good' fat you have in your body, study suggests​

The researchers at Maastricht University wanted to answer why the spike in life expectancies in Western countries has plateaued in recent decades. In the U.S., that figure currently stands at 78.6. Existing work indicates the obesity epidemic could be one culprit, as well as low levels of exercise.

Most past studies into longevity featured only men, or a combination of men and women. This work, therefore, offers a new perspective by looking into how BMI (an individual’s weight divided by height squared) and exercise levels might affect the lifespan of men and women separately. Women tend to live longer than men due to factors including differing lifestyles on average, as well as genetics and hormones, the authors wrote.

To investigate, the team used data from the Netherlands Cohort Study, which was started in 1986, and collected information on over 120,000 men and women aged between 55 to 69 years old living in 204 Dutch municipalities.

From this pool, the researchers assessed data from on 3,646 man and 4,161 woman respondents born between 1916 and 1917. At the start of the study, the respondents answered questions about their lives (like how much they smoked, drank alcohol and spent walking per day), and detailed variables such as their weight, height, and their weight when they were 20 years old. Participants were categorized into three groups: those who exercised for less than 30 minutes; between 30 to 60 minutes; and for 1.5hours or more.

In women aged between 68 to 70, their height, current BMI and their weight gain since the age of 20 were associated with reaching the age of 90.

And while exercising was found to boost the lifespan, working out for one hour a day was best suited to women before the effects plateaued. In men, there was no such cap,

Men who worked out for more than 90 minutes per day were 39 percent more likely to see their 90th birthday than those who exercised for 30 minutes or less. In women, those who engaged in physical activity for 30 to 60 minutes were a fifth more likely to hit the age of 90, compared with those who engaged in half an hour of physical activity.  

Study author Lloyd Brandts, of the Maastricht University Department of Epidemiology, told Newsweek: “Chances of reaching old age did not increase further at higher physical activity levels. In men it seems the more time they spend physically active every day, the better it is for their chances of reaching 90 years. We think the novelty of this research lies in the differences in associations we observed between both sexes.”

However, in men who had never smoked (10 percent of the cohort) a high BMI appeared to lower the chance of reaching 90 years of age, “but the number of never-smoking individuals was too small to conclude anything about this,” said Brandts.

“These finding indicate that both body size and physical activity are related to lifespan, but that these associations seem to differ between men and women. We advise the readers to adapt a healthy weight (BMI between 18.5-25 kg/m2) and at least 60 min of physical activity a day,” he said.

But, Brandts highlighted, as the study is observational it can’t establish cause between height, weight, exercise levels and a person's lifespan. 

“For instance, a low level of physical activity might also be an indicator of deteriorating health, which in turn might also have led to an earlier death,” he explained. “Furthermore, information on body size and physical activity was self-reported rather than objectively measured, which might have affected the results.” And as the participants were already what the researchers considered elderly when the study started, the results might not be replicated in younger people, he said. 

The study is the latest to attempt to investigate human life expectancy. Last year, scientists published a paper in bioRxiv claiming they had devised a blood test that could predict when a person might die.

run man woman stock getty Researchers believe body size may affect a woman's health more than a man's. Getty Images

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