Exercise and Healthy Eating Make a Difference Even For The Elderly

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Physicians have long known that exercise and a healthy diet contribute to a healthy lifestyle. A new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society proved that women in their 70s who exercise and eat healthy amounts of fruit and vegetables have a longer life expectancy. LAP-BAND VIP surgeon Dr. Hooman Shabatian said it's never too late to incorporate a healthy diet and exercise program into an older adult's lifestyle.

Programs and policies to promote longevity should include interventions to improve nutrition and physical activity in older adults

New research proves that it’s never too late to eat healthier and exercise more. A new study found that physically active older women who ate more fruits and vegetables were more likely to outlive their peers who did not exercise or eat as much produce.

Over a five year period, researchers from the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University studied 713 women ages 70 to 79 who took part in the Women’s Health and Aging Studies. This comprised two studies designed to evaluate the causes and course of physical disability in older women. The study participants were asked to complete a questionnaire detailing their levels of physical activity and were given blood tests to determine their levels of fruit and vegetable consumption.

“A number of studies have measured the positive impact of exercise and healthy eating on life expectancy, but what makes this study unique is that we looked at these two factors together,” said lead author Emily Nicklett, a professor of social work at the University of Michigan.

To estimate the amount of fruits and vegetables the women ate, the researchers measured blood levels of carotenoids, a beneficial plant pigment that the body turns into antioxidants, such as Vitamin A. Carotenoids protect against inflammation, cardiovascular disease and overall health. The more fruits and vegetables consumed, the higher the levels of carotenoids in the bloodstream. Fruits and vegetables with the highest level of carotenoids include carrots, parsley, spinach, mangoes and papayas.

After five years, the researchers followed up with the study participants. While 11.5 percent of the participants died, the group who had survived had a 12 percent higher level of carotenoids and their total physical activity was more than twice as high. Researchers concluded that when taken together, higher levels of physical activity and a diet high in fruit and vegetables predicted better survival rates. The most physically active group of women was eight times more likely to survive than those who never exercised.

A number of physical activities have been proven to increase lifespan, said Los Angeles weight loss surgeon Dr. Hooman Shabatian, who was not involved in the study. Shabatian said it’s never too late to make a healthy diet plan and exercise program a part of an older adult’s daily routine.

“Simply exercising for 15 minutes a day can add years to your life,” said Dr. Shabatian. “Another activity which incorporates both exercise and healthy eating is to walk to your local farmers market to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.”

The study may be an incentive for geriatric physicians and senior living facilities to incorporate better programming.

“Given the success in smoking cessation, it is likely that maintenance of a healthy diet and high levels of physical activity will become the strongest predictors of health and longevity. Programs and policies to promote longevity should include interventions to improve nutrition and physical activity in older adults,” said Nicklett.

For more information about this study and to download a copy, visit the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society website at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jgs.2012.60.issue-5/issuetoc

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