In a new study, researchers found a healthy diet could help old men maintain physical function.
The finding highlights the importance of a healthy diet for older people’s health.
The research was conducted by a team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Being able to maintain independence and take care of themselves is an essential part of healthy aging.
This requires older people to be able to do many physical activities, including bathing, getting dressed, carrying groceries and walking upstairs.
However, physical function can decline as people getting older.
In the current study, the team focused on the link between a healthy diet and physical function.
They found having a healthy diet or simple diet changes could lower the likelihood of developing physical impairment by about 25%.
The team examined data from more than 12,000 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and tracked them from 2008 to 2012.
All men, in the beginning, were assessed for their ability to perform activities such as bathing/dressing themselves, walking more than one mile, bending/kneeling, walking one block, climbing several flights of stairs, climbing one flight of stairs, walking several blocks, lifting groceries, moderate activities, and vigorous activities.
They also filled out a food questionnaire about what they ate every day.
The team used the Alternate Healthy Eating Index-2010 to assess the quality of the men’s diets.
The index includes six food categories for which higher intake is better, including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and legumes, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
It also includes one food category for which moderate intake is better (alcohol) and four categories for which lower intake is better (sugar beverages and fruit juice, red and processed meats, food high in trans fat, and sodium).
Higher diet scores mean better diet quality.
The team found that better diet quality was linked to lower physical impairment, including a 25% lower likelihood of developing impairment in physical function with aging.
An overall healthy diet was more strongly linked to better physical function than an individual component or food.
In addition, greater intake of vegetables, nuts, and lower intake of red or processed meats and sugary drinks were linked to lowered risk of impairment.
The finding suggests that diet can have specific effects on our health and can affect our wellbeing and physical independence as we get older.
Future work needs to test the direct causal relationship between a healthy diet and physical function in older people.
One senior author of the study is Francine Grodstein, ScD, of the Channing Division for Network Medicine at the Brigham.
The study is published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging.
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