Exercise, Healthy Diet in Midlife May Prevent Serious Health Conditions in Senior Years

A diet of vegetables and other healthy foods combined with a routine of regular physical activity may be key to middle-aged adults achieving optimal cardiometabolic health later in life, according to new research from the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Cardiometabolic health risk factors include metabolic syndrome, a cluster of disorders that include excess fat around the waist, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure. Presence of the metabolic syndrome may increase the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, according to the study.

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that midlife confers the most favorable cardiometabolic health outcomes later in life. The physical activity guidelines recommend that adults achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week, such as walking or swimming. The dietary guidelines, which were updated in January 2021, offer suggestions for healthy eating patterns, nutritional targets, and dietary limits.

In an analysis of data from participants of the Framingham Heart Study, which began more than 70 years ago in Framingham, Massachusetts, study investigators examined data from 2379 adults, 18 years of age and older, and their adherence to the 2 guidelines. They observed that meeting a combination of the 2 recommendations during midlife was associated with lower odds of metabolic syndrome and developing serious health conditions as participants aged in their senior years in 2016 to 2019 examinations, according to the study authors.

“Health care professionals could use these findings to further promote and emphasize to their patients the benefits of a healthy diet and a regular exercise schedule to avoid the development of numerous chronic health conditions in the present and in later life,” said corresponding author Vanessa Xanthakis, PhD, FAHA, assistant professor of medicine and biostatistics in the Section of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine in Boston, in a press release. “The earlier people make these lifestyle changes, the more likely they will be to lower their risk of cardiovascular-associated diseases later in life.”

Study participants were selected from the third generation of the Framingham Heart Study. Participants were examined between 2008 and 2011, and the researchers evaluated physical activity using a specialized device known as an omnidirectional accelerometer.

The device, which tracks sedentary and physical activity, was worn on the participant’s hip for 8 days. The researchers also collected dietary information from food frequency questionnaires to measure the kinds and levels of food and nutrients consumed.

In this analysis, the researchers observed that among all participants, 28{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} met recommendations of both the physical activity and dietary guidelines and 47{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} achieved the recommendations in only 1 of the guidelines.

The researchers also observed that:

  • Participants who followed the physical activity recommendations alone had 51{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} lower odds of metabolic syndrome.
  • Participants who adhered to the dietary guidelines alone had 33{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} lower odds.
  • Participants who followed both guidelines had 65{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} lower odds of developing metabolic syndrome.

“It is noteworthy that we observed a dose-response association of adherence to diet and physical activity guidelines with risk of cardiometabolic disease later in life,” Xanthakis said in a press release. “Participants who met the physical activity guidelines had progressively lower risk of cardiometabolic disease as they increased adherence to the dietary guidelines.”

The findings cannot be generalized to people in other racial or ethnic groups since all of the study participants were white adults, according to the study authors. They added that additional studies with a multiethnic participant sample are needed.


Exercise, healthy diet in midlife may prevent serious health conditions in senior years. American Heart Association. Published March 31, 2021. Accessed March 31, 2021. https://newsroom.heart.org/news/exercise-healthy-diet-in-midlife-may-prevent-serious-health-conditions-in-senior-years

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