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Healthy diet, lifestyle pay dividends well for seniors

Posted - Sep. 21, 2004 at 4:20 p.m.



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CHICAGO, Sept 21 (AFP) - Seniors who want the longest innings possible should take the experts' health advice to heart and keep working out and eating right into their 70s and 80s, a study released Tuesday said.

That was the conclusion of researchers who found that elderly Europeans who combined a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet with a healthy lifestyle had half the mortality rate of seniors who didn't.

In fact the death rate was up to 65 percent lower among 70 and 80-year-olds who ate a diet rich in plant foods and fish, exercised every day, abstained from smoking and drank alcohol in moderation, than their less motivated peers in an analysis of two long-term studies.

"The more healthful dietary and lifestyle factors a participant had, the lower the risk for all-cause mortality and cause-specific mortality," the researchers wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The benefits of each of these lifestyle choices has been documented before, but researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands wanted to evaluate their cumulative effect in an older population, in light of the rising numbers of elderly, and their increasing life expectancy.

The researchers based their findings on an analysis of two studies, comprising 2,300 Europeans between the ages of 70 and 90 in 11 countries.

For the purposes of the studies, exercise was defined as 30 minutes of physical activity or more per day, and non-smokers had either never smoked or had kicked the habit at least 15 years earlier.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans nuts and seeds, and fish, low in meat and diary products, and has a high ratio of monosaturated fatty acids to polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Separately, two other studies in this week's Journal said that elderly people who engage in regular activity, even if it's just walking, can keep their minds sharp and stave off the ravages of dementia.

In one study, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital reported that women aged 70 and up who walked at least six hours a week demonstrated the mental sharpness of someone three years younger.

On a related note, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine concluded that men who walked a quarter of a mile a day had an almost two-fold risk of dementia compared to their 70,80, and 90-something aged peers, who logged two miles a day.

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COPYRIGHT 2004 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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