According to research from the Netherlands Cohort Study (NLCS), men’s and women’s lifespans differ. Weight and body size may influence the lifespan of women more than it does the lifespan of men. The thought is factors such as genes, hormones and/or lifestyle are how the two different sexes are influenced.
Physical activity is linked to longer lifespans in both men and women, however it seems that the more time men spend physically active every day the greater their chances are for reaching old age. However per the findings, 60 minutes per day was associated with the best chances of women reaching old age.
The average life expectancy has increased over the past few decades, however recently there is the start of a plateau in some developed nations. Increasing levels of physical inactivity and obesity are thought to be responsible for the trend.
Early research has studied the associations between weight (body mass index or BMI), physical activity and reaching old age, however most studies have combined both men and women or focused just on men.
To research the differences, the current study by NLCS analyzed data from more than 120,000 women and men between the ages of 55 and 69 when it started in 1986. The goal was to see if there were links between weight, height, physical activity, leisure time and the likelihood of the participants reaching 90 and if there were differences between women and men.
Approximately 4161 women and 3646 men between the ages of 68 and 70 provided detailed information in 1986 about their current height, weight, weight when 20 years old and their leisure time and physical activity. This included activities such as dog walking, home improvements, gardening, cycling, walking and recreational sports. The physical activity was grouped in daily quotas of less than 30 minutes, 30 to 60 minutes and 90 minutes or more.
The participants were monitored until age 90 or death, whichever came first. The research team considered potentially influential factors such as smokers, former smokes, educational levels and their usual energy intake.
Approximately 944 women and 433 men lived to age 90. Women who survived to this age were on the average taller, had weighed less at the beginning of the study and had put on less weight since they were 20 than those who were heavier and shorter. Additionally, women who were more than 5’ 9” in height were 31% more likely to reach the age of 90 than women who were less than 5’3”. No similar associations were seen among the male participants.
When physical activity was analyzed, men who were over 90 minutes active per day were 39% more likely to reach the age of 90 over those men who did less than 30 minutes of daily physical activity. Every additional 30 minutes of physical activity per day was associated with a 5% increase in their chances of reaching age 90.
This was not the case for the women. Those who were physically active 30-60 minutes per day were 21% more likely to reach the age of 90 than those whose physical activity was less than 30 minutes per day. However, there was an optimal threshold for the women. About 60 minutes of physical activity per day was associated with the best chance of them reaching the age of 90.
Although this was an observational study and actual cause can’t be established, the findings based on the large number of participants all of whom were of similar age, strengthens the results. This study is just one of a few to differentiate factors of lifestyle which could be associated with longer lifespan between women and men.
The researchers point out that there may be an association between body size and reaching old age in men, however behavior and illness history did appear to influence the correlations found and also there were differences between non-smokers and smokers.
To view the original scientific study click here: Body size, non-occupational physical activity and the chance of reaching longevity in men and women: findings from the Netherlands Cohort Study. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 2019 DOI: 10.1136/jech-2018-211410