Tall Women Live Longer—But There’s a Catch

We have heard a lot about how our body mass index (BMI) is linked to life expectancy. During the last century, there are many studies which showcased the “Obesity Paradox,” which claims that in older adults, overweight or even obese, may be at the “healthy weight” for their age resulting to higher life expectancy. Meanwhile, there are also a lot of studies which blames increasing levels of obesity and physical inactivity as reasons of early death.

So, which is really it?

This time researchers delved more on body size, separating BMI factors—height and weight—to investigate more on the relationship between body mass and life expectancy. They found that, on average, tall women are more likely to reach, their 90’s, that is if they managed to maintain their weight from the age of 20. In addition, a woman who allots 60 minutes of physical activity has better chances to live longer.

In a study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, researchers analyzed the data from the Netherlands Cohort Study (NLCS), which includes information about more than 120,000 men and women age 55 to 69 when it began in 1986.

They found 7807 participants which provided detailed information on their height, weight and physical activity in 1986. The researchers separated the participants based on their sexes (3646 men and 4161).

Women‘s lifespans differ from men’s as they might be influenced by other factors such as lifestyle, genes, or hormones. They also factored other potential influencers such as smoking and drinking habits, usual energy intake, and more.

To study the link of height, weight and leisure time physical activity to the likelihood of reaching the age of 90. The researchers monitored the participants until they reach the age of 90 or died. 433 male participants or 16.7 percent survived to the age of 90, while 944 female participants or 34.4 percent of women also reached 90 years old.

Body Height and Lifespan

The research revealed that height, weight, and BMI have not much influence on the male participants’ life expectancy. “Male survivors and non-survivors were comparable regarding average height, BMI at baseline (start of the study), BMI at age 20 years and change in BMI since the age of 20 years, but survivors spent more time on non-occupational physical activity per day,” the researchers wrote.

On the other hand, height has is a noticeable factor in the life expectancy of female participants. “Compared with female non-survivors, female survivors were on average taller, had a somewhat lower average BMI at baseline and had a lower average increase in BMI since the age of 20 years. Furthermore, female survivors had more often a higher level of physical activity than female non-survivor.”

In addition, female participants with the height of more than 5 feet 9 inches (175 cm) were 31 percent more likely to reach 90 than women with the height of less than 5 feet 3 inches (160 cm).

Physical Activity and Lifespan

The study also evaluated the physical activity levels of the participants during their leisure time. These activities may include walking, cycling, recreational sports, as well as home activities like gardening and dog walking,

In men, those with more than 90 minutes a daily physical activity were 39 percent more likely to reach 90 compared to those less than 30 minutes. What’s more, each extra 30 minutes added daily activities will result in 5 percent increase in their chances to live until 90.

The result is slightly different in women. It was revealed that 60 minutes is the most optimal threshold for physical activity. Any more additional did not have a noticeable effect.

Women who spent 30-60 minutes on physical activities a day were 21 percent more likely to reach 90 years than those who spend 30 minutes or less.