Kathleen Tracy | HealthGreatness

For years studies have indicated a direct link between weight and longevity. New longevity studies say: think again. While obesity is never good, a few extra pounds appear to be a good thing.

Sport woman with bottle.

Dr. Claudia Kawas a neurologist at UC Irvine involved in a National Institutes of Health-funded study on longevity, says, “It turns out that the best thing to do as you age is to at least maintain or even gain weight. Being overweight as a young person wasn’t good. But late in life, [the study] found people who were overweight or average weight both outlived people who were underweight.

“It’s not good to be skinny when you’re old.”

New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association also found that overweight people are the least likely to die from any cause—even when compared to those who are of normal weight.

Adults with a body mass index between 25 and 29.9—which qualifies them as overweight but not obese—were the least likely to die of any group. And a comprehensive analysis by the Centers for Disease Control of nearly 100 studies involving 2.88 million people also found overweight people had the best change for achieving longevity.

The researchers concluded a few extra pounds “could help assuage disease-associated wasting” or provide important cushioning in the event of a traumatic injury.

While the researchers go to great pains to caution people from going on a binge-eating holiday to pack on pounds, the natural tendency for people to gain some weight as they age may not just be lifestyle pr lessening activity but a biological directive.

One thing researchers know for sure is that we are living longer. In 1900 the average life expectancy for men and women was 46 and 48 respectively; in 2000 it was 74 and 80. Researcher Aubrey de Grey from Cambridge University argues that aging is merely a disease that can be cured, enabling people to live 300, 400, or 500 years and more.

Futurist Ray Kurzweil, believes extended longevity is firmly within our grasp, although at more modest levels than de Grey’s envisions. In his book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, Kurzweil describes technological advances age researchers have already made that will greatly expand our current life expectancies to easily 150 years within the next 20 to 30 years, such as regenerative medicine and using nanobots to augment our immune system.

“One scientist already cured Type I diabetes in rats with a blood-cell-size device,” he says. “We’ll get to a point about fifteen years from now where we’re adding more than a year every year to your life expectancy.”

It is the stuff of science fiction turned reality.

Kurzweil and de Grey are part of a growing number of futurists who say the longer we can stay alive and healthy, the more chance we’ll have of joining the so-called oldest old. A recent 60 Minutes report looked at the group of nonagenarians that are the focus of the NIH-funded study on longevity. Dr. Kawas has been studying them to see what they have in common and offers a blue print for healthy living as we age:

• Those who exercised definitely lived longer than people who didn’t.

• Moderate exercise is best. Forty-five was better than three hours a day.

Side plank yoga pose by three women

• Socializing was very important.

• Keeping the brain active with reading and board games.

• Vitamins can’t hurt but don’t really help us live longer.

• Having one to two alcoholic drinks a day—doesn’t matter what kind of alcohol—provides a 10-15 percent reduced risk of death compared to non-drinkers.

• One to three cups of coffee a day was better than more, or none.