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Commitment to a Healthy Lifestyle Is More Important Than Weight in Determining Longevity PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. David Lipschitz Creative Syndicate   
Thursday, 12 December 2013 09:40

These days, being overweight or frankly obese is the rule rather than the exception. The body mass index is used to assess obesity, as it corrects weight for height. People with BMIs between 19 and 23 are said to be at their ideal weights, those between 23 and 30 are considered overweight, and obesity is defined as a BMI above 30. Anyone with a BMI above 40 is deemed morbidly obese.

Surprisingly, studies have shown that life expectancy is the longest in individuals who are overweight but not obese, while those at their ideal weights and below have a 5-15 percent reduction in life expectancy. Life expectancy is also lower for the obese and much more so for the morbidly obese.

Why do overweight individuals live the longest? Weight itself is a very poor predictor of longevity. Far more important are genetic factors (having parents who lived long lives), exercise, diet, stress levels, smoking, high cholesterol, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and waist circumference. Among overweight individuals, life expectancy is longest in those who eat a balanced heart-healthy diet, exercise frequently, don't smoke, have a waist circumference less than 44 inches and are compulsively treated for chronic medical problems.

Clearly, for those who are pleasantly plump, staying healthy does not depend on aggressively dieting in order to lose weight. In fact, the exact opposite is true -- most weight loss programs are usually doomed to failure, especially if fad diet approaches are involved. Any program promising rapid weight loss can only succeed in the short term. Dramatically reducing calorie intake leads to weight loss that may be as high as 10 to 15 pounds in a week. But this loss more reflects a significant reduction in the amount of total water in the body rather than the melting away of fat. The most available form of energy in the body is glycogen, which is stored in muscle. Cutting food intake initially leads to its mobilization so it can be used as fuel to maintain normal metabolism. A depletion of muscle glycogen causes a nine-fold decrease in the amount of water in muscle, accounting for the initial weight loss.

Another reason why rapid weight loss is doomed to failure is the fact that our bodies have an exquisite ability to adjust to less food intake. The calories we consume in our food are primarily used as fuel for every bodily function. The excess is either lost in the warm air we breathe out, as sweat or converted to fat. Before dieting, our weight may be stable, even when we consume as much as 3,000 or more calories daily. If we reduce food intake to as little as 1,200 calories per day, the body quickly adjusts its calorie requirements to be lower. Less calories are lost as heat or in sweat. Now, a stable weight can be maintained on just 1,500 calories daily. From this point onward, weight loss declines very slowly. Living on this highly restricted diet is difficult, and sooner or later, the willpower fails, calorie intake increases and weight gain returns with a vengeance. Not surprisingly, we become disheartened and just give up.

The solution is not dieting but rather committing to a total lifestyle makeover. The ideal diet is the "don't diet" diet and learning to eat right. The best approach are programs such as Weight Watchers or the not-forprofit TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) Club, both of which teach approaches to eating the right foods in the right amounts, providing continued support to improve chances of success. Just as important is exercise, controlling stress, improving self-image by dressing well and managing any chronic disease.

Does this approach apply to those who are frankly obese? Here, new research shows that the major reason why obesity reduces life span is primarily because of a sedentary life style, elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, all of which are commonly associated with obesity. Any approach aimed at losing weight must be accompanied by lifestyle changes and a commitment to taking care of chronic medical conditions.

If morbid obesity is an issue, bariatric surgery can help with weight loss, as well as help in reversing high blood pressure and diabetes. But to truly succeed, health and lifestyle are key to longevity and a more productive life.

Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book "Breaking the Rules of Aging." To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz visit


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