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Some Older People Are Healthier with Extra Pounds

Steven Peck July 8, 2019

The adage “You can never be too rich or too thin” does not necessarily apply after age 80 – at least the thin part. A study conducted at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that higher weight can make you healthier after age 80. Here are a few reasons why some older people are healthier with extra pounds:

People Over 80 Tend to Lose Weight Naturally

Even if you struggled to maintain a healthy weight throughout your adult years, you will likely lose some weight without trying after you hit 80. If you were already thin, losing weight could make you frail. Medical frailty means you experience at least three of these situations:

  • You lost 10 pounds in a year without trying to do so

  • You have a low level of physical activity

  • Your walking speed is slow

  • You have weakness

  • You feel exhausted

People over the age of 80 tend to lose weight unintentionally, because of problems with their digestive systems. Some people also do not eat enough because of dental issues.

The Rules Change After 80

People in the medical field (and the multi-billion-dollar weight-loss industry) hammer us constantly about the adverse health issues of being overweight. These people say if you are obese, you are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. After the age of 80, however, extra pounds can protect you from heart failure and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

People who have higher weight are also less likely to break bones when they fall. That padding really does help you avoid fractures that could rob you of your mobility and independence and even your life. Falls are one of the leading causes of death for seniors. A leg, hip, or spinal fracture could put you in a wheelchair. With decreased mobility comes a higher incidence of respiratory infections, like pneumonia. Not being able to get up and walk can cause blood clots to form, that can cause a stroke or an embolism in the heart or lungs.

A Valuable Buffer

An older person who is already thin will not have a buffer, if she loses weight from an illness or injury. The body will not have the strength to heal itself and get well. People who are thin or underweight before age 80 have a higher mortality rate than people who have extra weight.

After age 80, our bodies lose muscle mass and bone density. People seldom restore those levels. Researchers recommend seniors eat at least three meals a day with 30 grams of protein in each meal, for a total of at least 90 grams of protein every day. Older adults should also preserve their mobility by walking and their strength by doing overall resistance training two or three times a week to work your large muscle groups.

Women are at a greater danger of disability from falls than men, likely because women tend to have less muscle mass than men. Women also tend to be more conscious of their weight and body image than men and tend to diet more as a result.


AARP. “When Thinner Isn’t Better.” (accessed June 23, 2019 )

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