Say you’ve made it to the ripe old age of 70 after a lifetime of not-so-great eating habits — why change now? Because you may live longer, new research suggests.
While the link between diet and longevity is well studied, many seniors think that after a certain age, what they eat doesn’t really matter. Not true, according to a study just published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Scientists from the University of Maryland looked at the diets of 2,582 seniors (ages 70 to 79), categorizing them as mostly healthy foods (fruit, veggies, fish, poultry, whole grains, etc.), high-fat dairy (ice cream, cheese, less produce), sweets/desserts (doughnuts, cakes, cookies, etc.) and other dietary patterns. During the 10-year study, 739 people died. Compared to the healthy foods group, the high-fat dairy eaters were 40% more likely to die, while the sweets group was 37% more likely to die during that decade. The healthy foods group also enjoyed significantly higher intakes of folate (+17%), vitamin B12 (+22%), and beta-carotene (vitamin A, +36%).
Such findings have important implications for our aging population, as the worldwide number of people over age 65 is expected to more than double to nearly 1 billion by 2030. The effects of an unhealthy diet and lifestyle are cumulative — yet also highly responsive to change. Previous research suggests that 75% of your longevity potential comes from choices which affect not just the length of life, but its quality as well. For example, one study found that seniors who ate over 2 cups of veggies daily enjoyed a 38% decrease in the rate of cognitive decline. Exercise plays a key role too: Dr. David Nieman found that active older women had immune cells that functioned 67% higher than those of less active women.
Published February 1, 2011