Study: Our Diet in Midlife Will Affect Our Health in Old Age
What does it take to stay healthy and functional well into old age? Well, the diet you eat in your 50s and 60s may be one key factor that impacts how well you age.
According to a study recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, eating a primarily plant-based diet with lots of vegetables of fruit and low in red meat in your 50s and 60s, may impact the trajectory of health in people twenty years later. The study was a collaborative effort between Cécilia Samieri, PhD, in Bordeaux, France and a team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
The team studied 10,670 women, none of whom had any major chronic illnesses. Each woman filled out two diet questionnaires within two years in the late 1980s, and each was scored on how much their eating habits matched a Mediterranean-style diet or a general health eating index. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, and red wine in moderation. The diet substitutes butter for health fats, such as olive oil, and limits the intake of red meat to once or twice a month, while emphasizing fish and poultry at least twice a week.
The researchers followed this group of women until 2000 when they were in their mid-70s. Eleven percent of the sample, or 1,171 women, were deemed to be ”healthy agers,” i.e, they had no major chronic diseases, physical impairment, mental health problems, or difficulties with memory and thinking. These ”healthy agers” tended to not smoke, be less obese, and exercise regularly. Compared to the rest of the women in the study who aged normally, these ”healthy agers” also had fewer issues with high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
One of the features that distinguished the health agers was that they had the highest scores for the diets recorded twenty years earlier, indicating that midlife diet may have a powerful impact on health later in life. This study is not absolutely conclusive, as other factors that may have contributed to healthier aging were not monitored. While this study looked at only women, it can be extrapolated that similar associations between diet in the 50s and 60s and health in the 70s and 80s are also likely to be correlated for men.
With heart disease being the number one killer in the United States, paying attention to how we eat before we hit old age is a small price to pay for living longer and healthier. Ensuring that we eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and appropriate protein while we’re young will make all the difference in our quality of life as we age.With heart disease being the number one killer in the United States, paying attention to how we eat before we hit old age is a small price to pay for living longer and healthier. Ensuring that we eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and appropriate protein while we’re young will make all the difference in our quality of life as we age.