Your Diet at 40 Could Help Determine Your Health at 70

Maintaining a healthy diet in midlife may be one the main keys to aging gracefully, a new study has found.

It’s safe to say everyone would like to enjoy good physical, mental, and cognitive health into old age, but how to get there remains somewhat of a mystery.

We know that a combination of healthy lifestyle habits can help us achieve this goal, and a new study suggests that our food choices in middle age may play a major role.

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The preliminary study, conducted by the American Society for Nutrition, found that those who maintained healthy, balanced diets as of age 40 and beyond were far more likely to experience good health and quality of life at age 70.

Specifically, those who ate well in midlife were 43-84% more likely to be physically and mentally well at age 70 compared with those who did not.

Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fats, nuts, legumes, and low-fat dairy was found to be associated with greater odds of healthy aging while consuming higher amounts of trans fat, sodium, total meats, red, and processed meats were associated with lower odds of healthy aging.

“Traditionally, research and derived dietary guidelines have focused on preventing chronic diseases like heart disease,” said researcher Anne-Julie Tessier, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, in a news release. “Our study provides evidence for dietary recommendations to consider not only disease prevention but also promoting overall healthy aging as a long-term goal.”

Researchers conducted the study using data from 106,000 people between 1986 and 2016. The participants were 39 or older when the study began and free of chronic disease at that point. Every four years, they fill out questionnaires about their diet and health.

By 2016, only 9.2% of the participants had reached age 70 or older while avoiding chronic diseases and maintaining good physical, cognitive, and mental health.

Researchers examined how closely the participants followed eight healthy dietary patterns defined by previous scientific studies. They found that those who most closely followed the alternative healthy eating index, a pattern that reflects close adherence to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, were most correlated with healthy aging. Those in the top quintile for this dietary pattern were 84% more likely to achieve healthy aging than those in the bottom quintile.

The empirical dietary index for hyperinsulinemia diet was associated with a 78% greater likelihood of healthy aging, followed by the planetary health diet (68%), the alternative Mediterranean diet (67%), the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet (66%), the Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay (MIND) diet (59%), the empirical dietary inflammatory pattern (58%), and the healthful plant-based diet (43%).

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The findings remained true after accounting for factors including physical activity.

The researchers say the results suggest that it’s very possible to consume a diet that is good for both humans and the planet.

Additionally, they say the findings emphasize that switching to a healthier diet — even in middle age — may significantly impact the quality of life as individuals age.

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