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Body size may have bigger impact on lifespan in women

Women who do 60 minutes of daily physical activity per day have the best chance of reaching 90

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Body size– height and weight– may influence a women’s lifespan by far more than it does a man’s, suggests research* published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

And while the study found that the more time men spend physically active every day, the better it is for their chances of reaching old age, 60 minutes a day was associated with the best chance for women.

Most studies looking at the associations between weight (BMI or body mass index), physical activity, and reaching old age, have combined both sexes, or focused exclusively on men.

Women and men’s lifespans differ, which may be influenced by factors such as hormones, genes and/or lifestyle. To look at the differences, the researchers analysed data from the Netherlands Cohort Study (NLCS) to see if there were any links between height, weight, leisure time physical activity; the likelihood of reaching the age of 90; and if there were any differences between men and women.

NLCS includes data on more than 120,000 men and women who were aged between 55 and 69 when it began in 1986. Some 7,807 participants (3,646 men and 4,161 women aged between 68 and 70) provided detailed information in 1986 on their current weight, height, weight when aged 20, and their leisure time physical activity. This included activities such as gardening, dog walking, DIY (home improvements), walking or cycling to work, and recreational sports, which were grouped into categories of daily quotas: less than 30 minutes; 30 to 60 minutes; and 90 minutes or more. Participants were then monitored until death or the age of 90.

The researchers also considered potentially influential factors, such as whether the participants were current or former smokers, how much they drank, their educational attainment, and usual energy intake.

Some 433 men (16.7%) and 944 women (34.4%) survived to the age of 90.

Women who were still alive by this age were, on average taller, had weighed less at the start of the study, and had put on less weight since the age of 20 than those who were shorter and heavier. Women who were more than 175 cm (5 feet 9 inches) in height were 31% more likely to reach 90 than women less than 160 cm (5 feet 3 inches).

No such associations were seen among the men, and when it came to physical activity levels, men who did over 90 minutes a day were 39% more likely to reach 90 than those who did less than 30 minutes. Every extra 30 minutes of daily physical activity they did was associated with a 5% increase in their chances of turning 90.

The association with exercise and longevity was different in women. Those who did more than 30-60 minutes a day were 2% more likely to reach 90 than those managing 30 minutes or less, but there seemed to be an optimal threshold for women of around 60 minutes a day.


*Brandts L, van den Brandt PA. Body size, non-occupational physical activity and the chance of reaching longevity in men and women: findings from the Netherlands Cohort Study. J Epidemiol Community Health Published Online First: 21 January 2019. doi: 10.1136/jech-2018-211410

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