Healthy Weight and BMI Range for Older Adults

Your ideal weight may be higher than you think

Senior women doing yoga in the park

Sabrina Bracher / Getty Images

Don’t fret if you’re gaining weight in retirement. Studies show carrying a few extra pounds may have a protective effect for people ages 65 and older. What’s more, being underweight can increase the risk of death, disability, and dementia.

According to the National Institutes of Health, it may actually be better for seniors to have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 27, which is typically considered overweight. A slightly higher BMI appears to protect against nutrient deficiencies and osteoporosis.

In fact, research shows seniors with BMIs who fall in the overweight range (BMI 25 to 29.9) have the lowest mortality rates. Additional studies found the healthiest BMI range for seniors is 23 to 33. That’s the upper range of what’s typically considered normal weight to the lower range of obese.

This article discusses healthy weight ranges and BMI in older adults. It explains how much you should weigh if you are over 65 and provides a BMI calculator and weight chart for seniors.

weight gain tips for older adults

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How BMI Affects Older Adults

BMI is widely used in the medical community because it’s an inexpensive and quick way to analyze a person’s potential health status and outcomes. However, BMI is a dated, flawed measure. It does not take into account factors such as body composition, ethnicity, sex, race, and age. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a healthy BMI for adults 20 years and older is between 18.5 and 24.9, while a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight.

There are certain risks associated with having a high BMI at any age. These include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.

But a low BMI is also unhealthy, especially for older adults. This has led some experts—including the National Institutes of Health—to suggest that an ideal BMI for seniors is between 25 and 27.

What Is a Healthy Weight for Seniors?

One of the largest studies that set out to determine just how much BMI affects the health of older adults was published in 2014 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers combined BMI data from 32 previous studies. The analysis included 197,940 adult participants (all older than age 65) who were followed for at least five years.

The researchers concluded that there was a higher risk of death when BMI was below 23 or above 33. Compared to a BMI of 23 to 23.9, the risk of mortality in older adults increased by:

  • 12% for BMIs 21.0 to 21.9 
  • 19% for BMIs 20.0 to 20.9 
  • 8% for BMIs 33.0 to 33.9

Despite this evidence, it does not mean older adults should become overweight or obese on purpose. Being overweight is linked to serious health problems that require ongoing medical treatment and interfere with independence.

Taken all together, the healthiest weight for seniors is one that falls between BMIs 25 and 27, and that should be maintained with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Weight Chart for Seniors

The following chart includes a range of BMIs for older adults, ordered by height. Included here are underweight, ideal weight, and overweight BMIs, based on guidelines provided by the National Institutes of Health, and research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

 Height Underweight (BMI <23) Ideal Weight (BMI 25-27) Overweight (BMI >33)
4'10" <110 119 to 129  >158
4'11" <114 124 to 133 >163
5'0" <118 128 to 138 >168
5'1" <122 132 to 143 >174
5'2" <126 136 to 147 >180
5'3" <130 141 to 152 >186
5'4" <134 145 to 157 >192
5'5" <138 150 to 162 >198
5'6" <142 155 to 167 >204
5'7" <146 159 to 172 >211
5'8" <151 164 to 177 >216
5'9" <155 169 to 182 >223
5'10" <160 174 to 188 >229
5'11" <165 179 to 193 >236
6'0" <169 184 to 199 >242
6'1" <174 189 to 204 >250
6'2" <179 194 to 210 >256
6'3" <184 200 to 216 >264
6'4" <189 205 to 221 >271

BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. If you don't know your BMI, you can use the following BMI calculator to find out.

Benefits of a Higher BMI in Seniors

Several studies have found that being underweight at age 65 was linked to poor health and shorter life expectancy. Being overweight or obese at 65 was only rarely linked to worse health outcomes or lower life expectancy compared to those who were at a healthy weight at age 65.

Sometimes, in fact, older adults who are overweight or obese have better health outcomes. In fact, the lowest risk of mortality among older adults was found in the mid-normal, overweight, and lower obese ranges (between 23 and 33 BMI).

Social and Emotional Health

A Korean study collected data based on interviews with 542 people who had an average age of 74. Scientists discovered that health-related quality of life factors, such as social functioning, emotional health, and pain, are not made worse by a higher BMI in older adults.

Better Cognition and Functioning

A study of the Colombian population found that being underweight has been associated with reduced cognitive performance and daily functioning. Additionally, being overweight but not obese was associated with better cognition and daily functioning.  

More Independence

Additional research suggests that older adults who do not have a low BMI enjoy more independence. In fact, a study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics found that older adults with BMIs over 30 did not experience a decline in activities of daily living.

Dangers of Low Body Weight in Older Adults

Being underweight increases the risk of developing health problems, including nutritional deficiencies that cause medical problems—such as osteoporosis and anemia.

And a low BMI decreases your chances of recovering from illnesses and infections. For example, underweight stroke survivors have worse outcomes than stroke survivors who are overweight or average weight.

You can inadvertently lose weight if you have a chronic disorder that is associated with poor nutrition. Many conditions, such as cancer, gastrointestinal disease, and neurological disease can prevent older adults from eating or absorbing nutrients. This may lead to a low BMI, often for the first time in their lives.

There are no official recommendations on what the ideal weight range or BMI should be for people over 65. Experts recommend that every effort should be made to ensure older adults don't lose weight as a result of illness or poor nutrition.

Scientific data doesn't tell us what the ideal weight patterns are for a long life. But we do know from studying people who live to 100 that being a healthy weight seems to be an important part of living a long life.

Weight Maintenance Goals

When trying to stay healthy, you should work with your doctor to set the right goal for you. Despite what charts and calculators may say, the target BMI is not the same for everyone. You may need to factor in additional considerations.

If you have diabetes, for example, your doctor may recommend that you lose weight. But your doctor may ask you to try to eat more of certain foods if you have anemia.

As you get older, some situations make it more challenging to reach your target BMI. These factors include:

  • Health issues
  • Changes in activity level
  • Medications
  • Metabolism changes

As you face these challenges, you may need the help of a nutritionist. A nutritionist can guide you as you set your calorie goals. Nutritionists can also help you decide whether you need to take vitamin and mineral supplements.

If you lose too many pounds, it may be a sign that you have a health issue that your doctor needs to investigate. It's important to take early action if you become underweight.

How Older Adults Can Gain Weight

  • Add foods with a high calorie-to-volume ratio into the diet, including nuts, nut butters, avocados, dried fruit, whole grains, pasta, chocolate, cheese, and full-fat dairy.
  • Eat five to six smaller meals per day rather than the traditional three.
  • Make sure you eat 1 gram of protein per day for each kilogram of body weight.
  • Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over food. It delivers 887 calories per 100 grams.
  • Prepare high-calorie meals, such as casseroles, in bulk quantities so that they are always on hand.
  • Speak to your doctor about any nutritional supplements you may need.


Your BMI is one of the indicators of your overall health. Doctors recommend most adults keep their BMI between 18 and 24.9. Adults with a BMI over 25 are considered overweight and a BMI over 30 is considered obese.

On the other hand, older adults do better if they have a BMI between 25 and 27. Research shows that adults over 65 who are underweight experience more health issues and shorter life expectancy.

A licensed nutritionist can help you determine the best diet plan for your health. They can also help you select vitamins and mineral supplements to improve your nutrition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does waist circumference mean for your health?

    A person's waist circumference may be able to predict the risk of certain health conditions that occur later in life. For example, when more fat accumulates in the waist instead of the hips, it can signal a higher risk of experiencing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These risks are heightened in women with a waist size larger than 35 inches and in men with a waist size larger than 40 inches.

  • Why does cancer cause weight loss?

    Cancer can cause weight loss for a few reasons. Loss of appetite, fatigue, decreased skeletal muscle, and a heightened metabolism are all common symptoms of cancer. Some cancer treatments can also lead to appetite loss by causing nausea, vomiting, loss of taste, and difficulty chewing and swallowing.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Mark Stibich, PhD
Mark Stibich, PhD, FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.