Keeping Weight Off in Youth Pays Off in Old Age

Elderly fared better if they'd been trim at 25, 50 years of age, study found

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TUESDAY, May 22, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Staying trim and healthy in younger years can lead to a healthier, more mobile old age, U.S. researchers say.

Researchers analyzed data on more than 2,800 people, ages 70 to 79, in the Pittsburgh and Memphis metropolitan areas.

Reporting in the International Journal of Obesity, they found that women and men who were obese at ages 25 and 50, as well as at the time of the study, scored significantly lower on physical performance tests than those who were normal weight at those ages.

The physical performance tests measured walking speed, balance, and the ability to rise from a chair. The researchers noted that poor physical performance in older adults is a predictor of future disability, nursing home admission and death.

Women who were overweight but not obese at ages 25, 50 and between 70 to 79 also had lower physical performance test scores than those with normal weights at those ages.

The study also found that men and women who were overweight or obese in early- to mid-adulthood had lower scores than those who became overweight or obese in late-adulthood.

There may be a number of reasons for these findings, said lead author Denise K. Houston, an instructor in internal medicine-gerontology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"Obesity may lead to joint wear and tear, reduced exercise capacity, and a higher rate of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and arthritis that can result in physical disability," Houston said in a prepared statement.

"Obesity in young and middle adulthood may result in earlier onset of chronic diseases and lower physical activity, contributing to decreased muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness and greater declines in physical performance," she said.

According to Houston, the findings suggest that "interventions to prevent overweight and obesity in young and middle-age adults may be useful in preventing or delaying the onset of physical disability later in life."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about weight control.

SOURCE: Wake Forest University, news release, May 21, 2007

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