A little extra weight—and a healthy gait—protect against early death

In recent years, scientific studies have consistently found that people who are overweight—or even mildly obese—live longer with less chronic diseases than those who weigh less or who are underweight.

And now, a new study found that having a higher body mass index (BMI) seems to protect older men and women with cardiovascular disease from suffering an early death. But before we get into that new study, let’s back up to discuss the science behind the so-called “obesity paradox”…

The science behind the so-called “obesity paradox”

Beginning about 12 years ago, observant researchers noted that overweight—or even mildly obese—patients with chronic diseases, such as heart disease, fared better than their slimmer, or underweight, peers.

Of course, instead of adapting their theories to account for the new, real data, the researchers began referring to it as some kind of unexplainable anomaly, as if it were a UFO. And they started calling it the “obesity paradox.”

(As you may recall, similar evidence shows that French men and women have half the rates of chronic diseases than Americans, even though, on average, they drink more wine and alcohol, smoke more, and eat more fatty foods. For many years—instead of adjusting their theories to reality—they called that observation the “French Paradox.”)

But in reality, BMI was never a good measurement tool to use in gauging health…

In fact, when I first started as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I saw all these multi-million dollar research studies rely on BMI as an indicator of body fat, weight, and body composition.

But it’s just a statistical manipulation (weight divided by height, raised to an exponential power), which appeals to the statisticians who still rule the roost at NIH. And anthropologists and human biologists know there are much better and more accurate ways of measuring body fat and body composition—which leads to better studies with more accurate and precise results. Plus, they know there are even better ways of calculating BMI itself, instead of relying on the lazy way of government statisticians.

Men and women with a higher BMI have “consistently” better outcomes

The new study involved more than 2,000 people, 60 years or older, with heart disease, who were admitted to the hospital between 2006 and 2018. Before being discharged from the hospital, both their BMI and gait speed were measured.

Then the researchers categorized the patients into groups—based upon gait speed and BMI—and followed them over the next two years.

It turns out, fast walkers with a higher BMI had a better survival rate and a “consistently favorable prognosis” than the slow walkers with a higher BMI.

We can draw two major conclusions from these findings…

First, as I’ve always said, your gait (how well you walk) is the single, strongest predictor of a longer lifespan. NOT how much you weigh…especially as you get older.

The second finding involves BMI. Clearly, a higher BMI is NOT associated with a higher death rate in men and women with cardiovascular disease. Instead, excess body weight actually seems to protect them from an early death—that is, as long as they continue to preserve normal gait.

That’s all good news. And confirms my long-standing, common-sense approach to healthy aging. Which includes:

  1. Stay active—by getting a total of just 5 hours of light-to-moderate exercise weekly. I always enjoy casual walks, gardening, hiking, and swimming.
  2. Supplementing with 10,000 IU of vitamin D to obtain its many health benefits, and expose your bare skin (without toxic sunscreen) to sunlight, which triggers your skin’s natural production of vitamin D. So, especially this summer, get out in Nature whenever you can. (Plus, exercising on natural terrain challenges your core muscles and your balance—helping you maintain a strong, steady gait as you age.)
  3. Following a healthy, balanced, Mediterranean-type diet that includes plenty of protein and meat.

And you can help ensure your gait stays steady as you age with these simple steps:

  1. Maintain good balance, as balance allows your brain to rapidly process and integrate information from your eyes, inner eye, and limbs to help keep you upright and on your feet. An easy way to improve and maintain your balance is through yoga and strengthening your core.
  2. Build and maintain muscle mass, as strong muscles support a healthy, brisk gait. You can do this by upping your daily protein intake from sources like wild-caught fish, grass-fed and -finished meat, and full-fat, organic dairy (especially eggs).

Of course, there are many more safe, effective, and natural approaches to protecting your heart and improving your lifespan as you age, which you can find in my Heart Attack Prevention and Repair Protocol. To learn more about this comprehensive online learning tool, or to enroll today, click here now!

In the end, there is no “obesity paradox.” If you’re older and being hectored about some extra body weight—but you still have normal gait—just walk away…and keep walking.


“Impact of Gait Speed on the Obesity Paradox in Older Patients With Cardiovascular Disease.” Am J Med, 2019 Dec;132(12):1458-1465.e1. doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2019.06.047.