March 15, 2013

Good (?) News Finding #1: Fat Seniors Live Longer

Following the latest health news can be depressing and discouraging. If a new study says "You should do X," I'm not doing it. If the study warns "Don't do Z," you can bet I AM doing it.

It was a nice change of pace to find these two recent headlines:

  1. The mildly overweight live longer, and 
  2. Long slow walks may be better than high-intensity workouts on the treadmill or exercise bike. 

We'll look at the first today, and the second tomorrow.

The Mildly Overweight Live Longer!
How about that? Researchers from the CDC and elsewhere pooled data from 97 studies from over a dozen countries, tracking nearly 3 million people ( )

Here are some of the findings:
  • Overweight people had a 6 percent  lower overall death rate than those of normal weight. (Data were adjusted for age, gender and smoking.)
  • For people over 65, the mortality benefit of carrying a few extra pounds was even better. 
But don't stock up on ice cream and doughnuts, or cancel your gym membership. As usual, the picture isn't black and white. In defining normal and overweight, the study used standard ranges based on body mass index (BMI). The BMI is a measure of your body fat using your height and weight. The government will calculate it for you. Click here.

BMI Categories:
  • Normal weight = 18.5-24.9
  • Overweight = 25-29.9
  • Obesity = 30 and up
Using the BMI definitions, one third of Americans are overweight and another third are obese. The final third are normal weight or underweight.

The study makes clear that fewer of us are dying of obesity-related illnesses than you might expect, particularly after age 65. But there's no dispute that obese people, on average, are still much more likely to develop coronary artery disease, hypertension, and diabetes than thinner people. Medications can control many of these diseases and better medical treatments are available when stroke, heart attacks, and other bad things events happen. These medical advances have blurred the link between obesity and mortality.

It's a mistake to focus only on mortality rates. Disorders caused or exacerbated by obesity -- heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, kidney disease, osteoarthritis of knees and hips -- impair quality of life and increase health care costs.

So much for THAT piece of good news. Tomorrow: slow walking vs. the exercise bike and treadmill.

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