A higher BMI (body mass index) can be correlated with more health issues—but a new study shows that the timing of weight gain is important as well.
The study published in the British Medical Journal found that the way your body shape changes over time reflects health indicators, including mortality rate. Most interestingly, those who gain significant weight in midlife have the highest risk of mortality and other health risks (diabetes, for example).
Researchers surveyed tens of thousands of health workers every two years about their health and lifestyle, including their weight and BMI—over a period of about 15 years, New York magazine reports, and found that there are five basic trajectories for body type over the course of a lifespan:
If you are “lean-stable”: You start off thin and remain so. You are more physically active, tend to take multivitamins, and eat a healthier diet than the other groups. Your group had the lowest rates of mortality during the study.
If you are “lean-moderate increase”: You start thin but gain some weight.
If you are “lean-marked increase”: You start thin but gain a lot of weight. Your group has a higher mortality risk from stroke, cancer, and other causes.
If you are “medium-stable/increase”: You start with medium body shape and either retain or get heavier. Like the lean-stable group, you are probably on top of it, in terms of exercise, multivitamins, and healthy eating.
If you are “heavy-stable/increase”: You start with heavy body shape and retain or get heavier. Your group has the highest risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality from stroke.
Generally speaking, the lean-stable body type was the healthiest, as this group tended to maintain a BMI of 24 or below. When you look at the marked increase body types and medium-to-heavy-stable trajectories, that’s where things get dicey. While you have no control over the body type you’re born with, the study shows that giving up on healthy habits in midlife has a huge effect on overall health.
So why is this study significant? It’s the first effort to “systematically assess the association of body shape early throughout early and middle life with mortality risk,” according to the British Medical Journal. And the results indicate that weight management is highly connected to your lifespan and overall health (pass the kale and meet me at Pilates, anyone?).
All the more reason to keep up your health habits throughout your life—like this legendary yogi (and badass woman) who lived to be 100. Inspiration board, updated.
Read why the best way to be a healthy weight is to avoid dieting. Ready to give up the “D” word? Here’s what happened when this author gave up dieting for good.