A study looked at the long-term effect of a healthy diet during adulthood on physical function in older age and found it boosted physical fitness. The team, led by scientists at the University of Southampton, gathered data from 969 British men and women whose lifestyles have been monitored since they were born, in March 1946.
The team collected information from the participants at ages 36, 43, 53, and 60-64, examining the participants’ diets at different ages in relation to three standard measures of physical function at age 60-64 – chair rise, timed up-and-go speeds, standing balance.
The chair rise test measures the time taken to perform ten chair rises, rising from a sitting to a standing position and back down again; the timed up-and-go test looks at the time taken to rise from a chair, walk three metres at normal pace, turn around, return to the chair and sit down; and a standing balance test measures the time a person can stand on one leg with their eyes closed up to a maximum of 30 seconds.
The results showed that those who ate more fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals, and fewer highly processed foods, during their adult years performed better in the three tests of physical function.
In addition, the team also found that those who had improved their diet by age 60-64, when compared to their diets at a younger age, had a faster chair rise speed and a longer standing balance time, suggesting that making diet improvements even in early older age could still be particularly important for physical performance.
Lead author Sian Robinson, Professor of Nutritional Epidemiology at the University of Southampton, commented on the results saying, “Improving the quality of your diet can have a beneficial effect on health whatever your age. However, this study suggests that making good dietary choices throughout adulthood – by cutting down on highly processed foods and incorporating more fruit, vegetables and whole grains into your diet – can have a significant beneficial effect on strength and physical performance later in life, helping to ensure a much healthier old age.”
Professor Cyrus Cooper, Director of the MRC LEU, added that, “The link between dietary patterns and frailty in older people will open the door to effective interventions against the age-related decline in musculoskeletal function which is such a growing cause of disability in ageing populations worldwide.”
The findings can be found published online in The Journals of Gerontology: Series A.