Health In Focus
  • Height and weight have been found to affect the longevity of women far more than the longevity of men according to a recent observational study
  • Women who engage in physical activity for at least 60 minutes are more likely to reach 90 years compared to men who need to spend more time being physically active to improve longevity
  • Current study is one of the few projects that analyze gender differences in lifespan and whether it may be influenced by factors such as height, weight and physical activity

Women who are taller and weighed less at age of 20 years are more likely to reach 90 years compared to women who are shorter and weighed more at 20 years. On the other hand, body size (height and weight) does not influence longevity in men.

The findings of the study appear online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Trends in Lifespan of Men and Women

Overall longevity has improved in the past few decades but has recently plateaued perhaps due to increasing levels of obesity and physical inactivity in the general population.
Body Size Can Influence Longevity in Women

Previous research has analyzed the association between physical activity, body mass index (BMI) and longevity in studies including both sexes or only in men. The current study explores gender differences in longevity and whether factors such as body size and physical activity could influence lifespan

In general, the lifespan of women and men differ, probably impacted by factors such as hormones, genes and/or lifestyle.

Analyzing Gender Differences in Lifespan - Study Design

  • To determine gender differences, the team analyzed data from the Netherlands Cohort Study (NLCS), comprising 120,000 men and women aged between 55 and 69 years when it began in 1986.
  • The team specifically hoped to determine if there were any sex differences in longevity of men and women and if physical activity, height and weight played any role in the lifespan
  • About 7807 volunteers (3646 men and 4161 women aged between 68 and 70) gave details of their current weight, height, weight and physical activity when they were 20 years
  • Activities included gardening, walking, dog walking, cycling, DIY (home improvements), and recreational sports. The activities were grouped based on time spent into less than 30 minutes, 30-60 minutes and 90 minutes or more
  • Starting from 1986, the participants were regularly followed up until they reached 90 years or died, whichever was earlier
  • The study team duly adjusted for other influencing factors such as smoking, daily calorie intake, educational qualifications and alcohol intake

Key Findings of the Study

  • About 433 men (16.7%) and 944 women (34.4%) lived to 90 years
  • Women who were alive at 90 years were on average taller and weighed less at the start of the study and had not gained much weight since the age of 20 years compared to women who were shorter and weighed more at the start of the study
  • Women who were 175 cm (5 feet 9 inches) or more in height were 31% more likely to live to 90 years compared to women who measured 160 cm (5 feet 3 inches) or less
  • Similar associations between body size and longevity were not noticed in men
  • In terms of physical activity, men who did 90 minutes or more were 39 percent more likely to reach 90 years compared to men who did less than 30 minutes of physical exercise per day
  • In men, a 30-minute increment in exercise duration increased the chances of reaching 90 years by five percent
  • However in women, those who engaged in 30-60 minutes of exercise a day were 21 percent more likely to attain 90 years compared to women who did 30 minutes or less; however, the optimal duration in women associated with the best chance of reaching 90 years was 60 minutes of exercise per day

Strengths and Limitations of the Study

  • The study is an observational study and cannot establish cause-effect relationship. Also, the weight and physical activity details were not measured by the team but reported by the participants which can be a drawback
  • On the plus side, the study was a large one consisting of several men and women similar in age and background and the current study is one of the few studies that have explored gender differences in longevity related to physical activity and body size
  • Although body size did not influence men's lifespan, differences were noted in this group due to other factors such as lifestyle, illness and smoking history


Height and weight may affect the lifespan of women far more than it influences longevity of men. However, this is an observational study and thus cannot establish a causal relationship.

Reference :
  1. Body size, non-occupational physical activity and the chance of reaching longevity in men and women: findings from the Netherlands Cohort Study - (

Source: Medindia

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