Research shows how midlife diet, exercise can help in older adulthood

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An analysis of a decades-long study has revealed how a healthy diet and routine exercise when adults reach middle age may help them avoid serious health issues later in life.

Researchers with the American Heart Association analyzed data from the Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 with 5,209 patients in Framingham, Massachusetts. It strived to explain the underlying causes of heart disease.

AHA researchers discovered people can achieve optimal cardiometabolic health if they eat fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods as well as get regular physical activity.

Examples of cardiometabolic health risk factors are disorders such as excess fat around the waist, insulin resistance high blood pressure, all of which are part of metabolic syndrome. Having this set of conditions could raise the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.

The findings were published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

For the analysis, researchers examined Farmingham Study data from 2,379 adults ages 18 and older. They also evaluated how well the adults adhered to guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services’ 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

It’s recommended that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. Dietary guidelines provide recommendations for dietary limits, healthy eating patterns and nutrition-based goals.

Researchers noticed that reaching a combination of the two recommendations in middle age was linked to a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome and developing serious health conditions as participants reached older adulthood in 2016-2019 observations.

“Health care professionals could use these findings to further promote and emphasize to their patients the benefits of a healthy diet and a regular exercise schedule to avoid the development of numerous chronic health conditions in the present and in later life,” said corresponding author Vanessa Xanthakis, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine and biostatistics in the Section of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine in Boston in a press release. “The earlier people make these lifestyle changes, the more likely they will be to lower their risk of cardiovascular-associated diseases later in life.”

To track participants’ sedentary and physical activity, researchers used a specialized device called an omnidirectional accelerometer from 2008-2011. Each participant wore the device on their hip for eight days. Additionally, researchers gathered dietary information from food frequency surveys to gauge the types and quantities of food and nutrients consumed.

Researches discovered that 28% of participants met recommendations of the physical activity and dietary guidelines. Meanwhile, 47% fulfilled the recommendations in one of the guidelines. At 65%, the greatest odds of lowering metabolic syndrome were found when participants followed both guidelines.

“It is noteworthy that we observed a dose-response association of adherence to diet and physical activity guidelines with risk of cardiometabolic disease later in life,” Xanthakis said. “Participants who met the physical activity guidelines had progressively lower risk of cardiometabolic disease as they increased adherence to the dietary guidelines.”