"Our findings suggest that losing weight at any age can result in long-term cardiovascular health benefits, and support public health strategies and lifestyle modifications that help individuals who are overweight or obese to lose weight at all ages," according to lead study author John Deanfield, of University College London.
Researchers analyzed data from nearly 1,300 men and women in the United Kingdom who were followed since their birth in March 1946. The participants were classified as being either normal weight, overweight or obese when they were children, and at ages 36, 43, 53 and between 60 and 64.
The longer the participants had excess body fat in adulthood, the more likely they were to have heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and narrowing of the arteries later in life, the findings showed.
The investigators also found that people who moved down in weight categories -- such as from obese to overweight, or from overweight to normal weight -- at any time during adulthood reduced their risk for these conditions.
This was true even if they regained weight later, according to the study published in the May 21 online edition of The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.
"Our study is unique because it followed individuals for such a long time, more than 60 years, and allowed us to assess the effect of modest, real-life changes in [levels of body fat]," Deanfield explained in a journal news release.
While these findings are encouraging, only 2 percent of the study participants managed to keep off weight after losing it, Elizabeth Cespedes and Frank Hu, of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, noted in an accompanying journal editorial.
This highlights the need for public health officials to promote and help people adopt lifestyle habits that help them maintain a healthy weight, they said.
Although this study found an association between weight loss and improved heart health, the research wasn't designed to prove that weight loss caused those improvements.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about healthy weight.