The way women eat in their late 50s and
early 60s may have some connection to how well they age later on, according to
a new study.
studies examining the benefits of a healthy diet have typically focused on its
link to specific diseases or death. The new report took a big-picture view of
healthy ageing in general. Most health conditions develop slowly over many
it's important to look at people's disease risks over the course of their lives – not just in old age, Cecilia Samieri said. "Midlife exposures are thought
to be a particularly relevant period," she told Reuters Health.
"For example, atherosclerosis in cardiac
diseases (and) brain lesions in dementia, start in midlife. "Samieri is
from the Research Centre INSERM in Bordeaux, France. She worked on the study
with researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard School of
Public Health in Boston. Their results were published in the Annals of Internal
Healthy eating index
report included 10 670 women who were enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study, a
large, long-term study which began in 1976. Women included in the new analysis
were in their late 50s and early 60s and had no major chronic diseases in the
All participants filled out two diet
questionnaires, one in 1984 and one in 1986. The researchers assigned women
scores based on how closely their diets matched a general healthy eating index
or a Mediterranean-style diet.
Next, they followed the participants to see
how well they aged through 2000, when women were in their 70s.The researchers
defined "healthy ageing" as having no major chronic diseases, physical
impairment, mental health problems or trouble with thinking and memory.
According to that definition, 1 171 women – or 11 percent – were healthy agers.
The rest aged normally. General diet was
measured on a scale from 0 (least healthy) to 110 (healthiest). Healthy agers
had an average diet score of 53.2, compared to 50.6 among usual agers. The
Mediterranean diet scale ranged from 0 to 9, with higher scores again
reflecting healthier diets. Healthy agers scored an average of 4.5 on that
scale, compared to 4.3 for usual agers.
Chronic diseases or impairment
with usual agers, healthy agers were also less likely to be obese or smoke and
they exercised more in mid-life. Fewer had high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Women with the highest diet scores were 34 percent to 46 percent more likely to
have no chronic diseases or impairment in old age versus those with the worst
diets, after other health-related factors were taken into account.
Still, the new study can't prove diet was
responsible for healthy ageing, researchers said. Although it included only
women, Samieri said there is no reason to believe that similar associations
shouldn't be observed among both genders.
"We know that a balanced plant-based
diet, one similar to the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, even MyPlate can be
heart healthy," Joan Salge Blake told Reuters Health. She is a
spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and was not involved in
the new study. Heart disease is the number one killer in America, and being
overweight and obese can increase heart risks. "It's never too late to
improve on your diet and lifestyle," Salge Blake said. She suggested
eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, meat and
chicken and eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week.