You’ve probably heard it said over and over that how you take care of yourself today has an enormous impact on your future health. You simply can’t abuse your body in your 20s, 30s and 40s and expect it to function well as you enter your senior years.
But research is showing that how well you treat your body in your middle-age years, specifically, is an even bigger predictor of your health down the road. One study revealed that body mass index (BMI) at midlife has a significant impact on whether or not you get dementia later in life, while late-life BMI does not.
In the same vein, researchers in Australia looked into the relationship between BMI in midlife and disability status in old age. What they discovered adds even more credence to the notion that your middle-age health predicts how good your future health will be.
Researchers analyzed the relationship between BMI (measured at baseline between 1990 and 1994) in participants younger than 65, and disability (measured at follow-up between 2003 and 2007) in those aged 70 or older. A total of 2,518 men and 3,745 women were included in this analysis.
During the follow-up interview, researchers asked the participants if their health limited their ability to partake in six activities of daily living (ADLs): bathing, dressing, eating, getting out of a chair or bed, going to the bathroom and walking 200–300 meters. Response options were “none,” “some,” “a lot,” and “cannot do.” They defined disability as any response other than “none.” They analyzed two measures of disability — disability in any of the six activities, and any disability in the five basic self-care ADLs (meaning all of the activities minus the walking).
The results showed that the limitations measured at follow-up for all activities, with the exception of eating, generally increased in both sexes as baseline BMI increased. The highest prevalence of disability (self-care ADLs and limited mobility) occurred in those with BMIs of 35 or higher.
In fact, for men, this BMI category was associated with a 3.5-fold increase in the odds of both measures of disability. And for women, the 35-plus BMI category was associated with a 4.4-fold increase in the odds of self-care ADL limitations, and went up to a 6.6-fold increase when walking was added to the mix.
According to the researchers, the greater risk of disability in women with high BMIs may be due to differences in fat distribution or sex-specific causal pathways between obesity and disability.
Get Healthy Now, Be Healthy Later
As people approach midlife, it does get more difficult to control the “middle-age spread.” But, as this study demonstrates, keeping your weight in check at this crucial stage in life can have huge implications for how well you live later in life.
Just three or four days of aerobic and strength/resistance training is generally all most people in midlife need to stay healthy and fit. And, of course, diet is the other half of the equation. In terms of weight loss and decreased mortality, consider following a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and heart-healthy fats like olive oil.
Take these steps now, and chances are you’ll live a long, healthy, and most importantly, active life in the future.
 Anstey KJ et al. Body mass index in midlife and late-life as a risk factor for dementia: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Obes Rev. 2011;12:e426–e437.
 Backholer K et al. The relationship between body mass index prior to old age and disability in old age. Int J Obes (Lond). 2012 Set;36(9):1180–6.
 Wray LA and Blaum CS. Explaining the role of sex on disability: a population-based study. Gerontologist. 2001;41:499–510.