Older Adults Who Eat More Fruit and Vegetables and Exercise Regularly Live Longer Than Those Who Have Just One of These Two Healthy Habits
Older people who eat more fruits and vegetables live longer than those who eat less produce. And those who exercise regularly live longer than those who don’t make exercising a habit. But older adults who both eat more fruits and vegetables and exercise regularly live significantly longer than those who do only one of these two things, a new study finds. The study followed more than 700 older women for five years. The women were 70- to 79-years-old at the start of the study.
New Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
The researchers who conducted the new study wanted to find out three things:
- whether older adults who eat more fruits and vegetables live longer than those who eat less produce
- whether those who exercise regularly live longer than those who don’t get regular exercise
- whether older people who both eat more produce and exercise regularly live longer than those who do only one of those two things.
To estimate the amount of produce each woman ate, the researchers measured the levels of substances called carotenoids in her blood. Carotenoids are colorful substances in produce (they give carrots their orange color, for example) that can help prevent certain types of cancer and heart disease, and help your body fight infections. The more fruits and vegetables you eat, the higher the levels of carotenoids in your blood.
To determine how much exercise each woman got, the researchers had each fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire asked whether they participated in common physical activities and, if so, how often, and for how long. These activities included: strength exercise; stretching exercises; bowling; walking for exercise; vacuuming, scrubbing floors or doing other strenuous indoor activities; or doing strenuous outdoor activities such as gardening.
Over the course of the five-year study, roughly 12 percent of the women died. Women who had low levels of carotenoids in their blood and were sedentary were nearly eight times as likely to die during the study as women who both had high levels of carotenoids and were the most active, the researchers found. Those who had high carotenoid levels but got little exercise, were more than twice as likely to die during the study as the women who had high carotenoid levels and were the most active. And those who had low carotenoid levels but were very active were four times as likely to die as those who had high carotenoid levels and exercised often.
“(T)his is the first study to show that the combination of a healthy diet and greater physical activity predict greater survival…than either (diet or exercise) alone,” conclude the researchers, scientists, who are based at the University of Michigan and Columbia University.
What Should I Do?
Consider what you’re eating and how active you are. When you sit down for a meal, is three-quarters of your plate covered with fruits and vegetables? That’s what the United States Department of Agriculture’s new nutrition guidelines for older people recommend. Do you make exercise a regular part of your day by, for example, walking, vacuuming, gardening, playing golf, or gardening?
It’s never too late to start eating a healthier diet— a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in unhealthy fats-- or start exercising regularly. Just be sure to check with your healthcare provider before making major changes in your diet or starting or making significant changes in an exercise routine.
This study is from the full report titled, “Fruit and Vegetable Intake, Physical Activity, and Mortality in Older Community-Dwelling Women.” It is in the May 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The report is authored by Emily J. Nicklett, PhD, MSW, Richard D. Semba, MD, MPH, Qian-Li Xue, PhD, Jing Tian, MS, Kai Sun, PhD, MS, Anne R. Cappola, MD, ScM, Eleanor M. Simonsick, PhD, Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PHD, and Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH.