What you eat at 40 Can Determine Your Quality Of Life At 70

Research spanning more than thirty years has shown that a healthy diet in middle age influences physical and mental health for up to thirty years later.

A study based on data collected over thirty years has shown that maintaining a healthy diet from the age of 40 helps people age healthily and maintain good physical, cognitive, and mental health until the age of 70 or more.

The study, which reveals the close relationship between diet in middle age and healthy aging, was led by researchers at Harvard University and was presented this Tuesday at ‘ Nutrition 2024′, the annual congress of the American Society of Nutrition held in Chicago.

The research, based on data from more than 100,000 people over 30 years, showed that those who followed a healthy diet from age 40 were 43% to 84% more likely to function well physically and mentally at age 70, compared to those who did not.

“People who followed healthy dietary guidelines in midlife, especially those rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, were much more likely to age healthily, suggesting that what you eat in midlife may play an important role in how you age,” says Anne-Julie Tessier, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Fruits, vegetables, cereals, and unsaturated fats

In terms of food, the researchers found that higher consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fats, nuts, legumes, and low-fat dairy products was associated with a greater likelihood of healthy aging, while higher consumption of trans fats, sodium, red meat, and processed meat was associated with a lower likelihood of healthy aging.

While many previous studies have shown that a healthy diet can help prevent chronic diseases, the new research is unique in its focus on healthy aging, defined not just as the absence of disease, but as the ability to live independently and enjoy a good quality of life as we age.

Healthy aging rates

Researchers analyzed data from more than 106,000 people dating back to 1986. Participants were at least 39 years old and free of chronic diseases at the start of the study and provided information about their diet through questionnaires every four years.

By 2016, nearly half of the study participants had died, and only 9.2% survived to age 70 or older, remaining free of chronic disease and in good physical, cognitive, and mental health.

The team compared rates of healthy aging among people in the highest versus lowest quintiles (indices) of adherence to each of eight healthy dietary patterns defined by previous scientific studies.

The strongest correlation was seen with the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, a pattern that reflects close adherence to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Participants in the top quintile of this dietary pattern were 84% more likely to achieve healthy aging than those in the bottom.

Strong correlations were also found with those following the hyperinsulinemia diet (associated with a 78% increased odds of healthy aging), the planetary health diet (68%), the alternative Mediterranean diet (67%), the diet to stop hypertension (DASH) (66%), the Mediterranean intervention diet-DASH for neurodegenerative retardation (MIND) (59%), and the empirical inflammatory dietary pattern (58%).

The healthy plant-based diet showed a somewhat more modest association (43%).

“One of the most notable findings was the association between a planetary health diet and healthy aging,” Tessier said.

“This diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plant proteins, and healthy fats from sustainable sources. The fact that it has emerged as one of the main dietary patterns associated with healthy aging is especially interesting because it supports that we can follow a diet that can benefit both our health and the planet,” the researcher emphasizes.

The links between diet and healthy aging remained strong even when researchers accounted for physical activity and other factors known to influence health.