Fitness watch: Want to live longer? Get your diet right

Everyone wants to live longer. And we’re often told that the key to doing this is choosing healthier lifestyles, like exercising, avoiding smoking, and not drinking too much alcohol. Studies have also shown that diet can increase shelf life.

TO new study has found that eating healthier could extend life expectancy by six to seven years in middle-aged adults, and in young adults, it could increase life expectancy by about ten years.

The researchers pooled data from many studies that looked at diet and longevity, along with data from the Global burden of disease study, which provides a summary of the health of the population of many countries. Combining these data, the authors were able to estimate how life expectancy varied with continuous changes in intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, refined grains, nuts, legumes, fish, eggs, dairy, red meat, processed meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages. .

The authors were then able to produce an optimal diet for longevity, which they then compared to the typical Western diet, which mostly contains large amounts of processed foods, red meat, high-fat dairy, high-sugar foods , prepackaged foods. and low consumption of fruits and vegetables. According to their research, an optimal diet included more legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), whole grains (oats, barley, and brown rice), and nuts, and less red and processed meat.

The researchers found that following an optimal diet starting in your 20s would increase life expectancy by more than a decade for women and men in the US, China and Europe. They also found that switching from a Western diet to the optimal diet at age 60 would increase life expectancy by eight years. For people in their 80s, life expectancy could increase by almost three and a half years.

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But since it’s not always possible for people to completely change their diet, the researchers also calculated what would happen if people switched from a Western diet to a diet that fell somewhere between the optimal diet and the typical Western diet. They found that even this type of diet, which they called the “feasibility approach diet,” could still increase life expectancy for 20-year-olds by just over six years for women and just over seven years for men. the men.

A table showing the typical amount of food people should aim to consume daily on each type of diet. Laura Brown, Author provided

These results show us that making long-term dietary changes at any age can have substantial benefits for life expectancy. But the gains are greatest if these changes start early in life.

Full picture?

The life expectancy estimates in this study come from the most recent and comprehensive meta-analysis (a study that combines the results of multiple scientific studies) on diet and mortality.

While meta-analyses are in many cases the best evidence given the amount of data analysed, they still make assumptions with the data, which can cause important differences between studies to be missed. It’s also worth noting that the evidence for reducing egg and white meat consumption was of lower quality than the evidence they had for whole grains, fish, processed meats, and nuts.

There are also some things the study didn’t take into account. First, to see these benefits, people needed to make changes to their diet within a ten-year period. This means that it is not clear whether people can still see life expectancy benefits if they make changes to their diet over a longer period of time. The study also did not take into account previous health problems, which can affect life expectancy. This means that the benefits of the diet on life expectancy only reflect an average and can be different for each person depending on a variety of other factors, such as ongoing health problems, genetics, and lifestyle, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and exercise.

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But the evidence the researchers looked at was still strong and was drawn from many studies on this topic. These findings also align with prior investigation which has shown that modest but long-term improvements in diet and lifestyle can have important health benefits – including longevity.

All the mechanisms that explain why diet can improve life expectancy are still not entirely clear. But the optimal diet that the researchers discovered in this study includes many antioxidant-rich foods. some research in human cells suggests that these substances may delay or prevent cell damage, which is one of the causes of aging. However, research in this area is still ongoing, so it’s not clear whether the antioxidants we consume as part of our diet will have the same effect. Many of the foods included in this study also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can also delay the onset of various diseases and the aging process.

Of course, changing your diet completely can be difficult. But even introducing some of the foods that have been shown to increase longevity may have some benefit.

Laura Brown, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition, Food and Health Sciences, University of Teesside

This article was first published on The conversation.


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