: Older adults can increase their life expectancy by adopting a healthier eating pattern?
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Adopting a balanced diet that focuses on fruits and veggies (even later in life) promotes longer life expectancies and better quality of life in older adults.
WHAT WE KNOW
Who doesn’t want to live forever young? With America’s current shift to a larger number of older adults—thanks to advanced medicine and a well-nourished population—an increased emphasis on the care of adults over 70 years of age has come into the limelight. As we age, the number of health-related problems seems to increase. Many older adults accept these changes in their bodies as inevitable and believe that there’s little they can do to prolong a happy, healthy life. Perhaps you’ve noticed this about your own parents or grandparents.
We know the top three leading causes of death in the United States (for adults) are heart disease, cancer and stroke. Evidence shows that leading a healthy lifestyle—eating a balanced diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables and being physically active*—can decrease the risk of all three of these! New research is looking specifically at the dietary patterns of older adults to determine if their diet alone in later years of life has any effect on promoting a longer life.
HOW DO WE KNOW THIS?
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association looked at the dietary patterns of 2,582 older adults ages 70-79 for an average of 8 1/2 years after initial assessment. The study found that older adults who ate from the Healthy Food Cluster—higher intake of low-fat dairy products, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish and vegetables—had a significantly lower risk for mortality when compared to the High-Fat Dairy Products and Sweets and Desserts patterns of eating. A diet pattern consistent with current dietary recommendations was associated with "superior nutritional status, quality of life and survival of older adults." ¹
A separate study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association also reported that individuals 70 years old and older who scored highest in adhering to nutritional recommendations (eating fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, non-fat/low-fat dairy product, olive oil, legumes, whole grain bread, and seafood (1-2 days per week) most often, if not daily) decreased many of the risk factors associated with heart disease. These included lowering the odds for obesity and hypertension.² With heart disease and stroke being listed as the number one and number three causes of death, respectively, this is pretty significant finding!
While getting old is inevitable, feeling old isn’t! The young and old alike can benefit from a healthy eating pattern and exercise! These two factors alone can significantly reduce the risk of many of leading causes of death and the risk of weight gain associated with aging.
So cherish your life now and continue doing so into your older years by staying active and enjoying your fruits and veggies! And if the older adults in your life didn’t start young, switching now to a balanced diet that focuses on fruits and veggies can still offer many benefits contributing to life expectancies and a better quality of life.
*Before starting an exercise routine, speak with your doctor about physical activity restrictions. Also seek out assistance from a registered dietitian for specific dietary recommendations related to any chronic diseases.
¹ Anderson, A., T. Harris, F. Tylavsky, et al. "Dietary Patterns and Survival of Older Adults." Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2011): 111: 84-91.
² Kourlaba, G., E. Polychronopoulos, A. Zampelas, et al. "Development of a Diet Index for Older Adults and Its Relation to Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors: The Elderly Diet Index." Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2009): 109: 1022-30.