Researchers in the US have found that women who eat a healthy diet in midlife are more likely to be healthier in their 70s. The paper is published on Monday 4 November in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, looked at dietary patterns of 10,670 women who were enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study. The women were asked to complete two questionnaires when they were in their late 50s and early 60s detailing the food they ate. Around 15 years later, the participants’ health was assessed.
The team found 11% of the group were ‘healthy agers’ – with no cognitive impairment, no chronic diseases and no physical impairment. The rest were classed as ‘usual agers’, with at least one of these problems. When the researchers looked in detail at the women’s diets in midlife, they found those who most closely followed healthier diets including ‘Mediterranean-style’ diets were more likely to be in the healthy ageing group. Both diets include a higher intake of vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Observational studies such as this can be useful for highlighting factors that could be linked to healthy ageing, but this type of research can’t tell us definitively whether specific diets can prevent poor health. This large study does add to existing evidence linking a healthy diet to healthy ageing, but we don’t know what other factors may have affected these results. It’s not known whether the people studied changed their diet or lifestyle over the follow-up period, and we don’t know what happened to the women in the study beyond the age of 70. It’s not clear how well these findings, which are mostly based on white women who worked as nurses, relate to the wider population.
“Diseases like Alzheimer’s are likely to be caused by a complex mix of genetics and environmental factors, and investment in research to understand these factors is vital for finding preventions. Although there’s currently no certain way to prevent dementia, the best evidence suggests people can lower their risk by eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure in check.”