Exercise and a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables extends life expectancy in women in their 70s

May 30, 2012

Women in their seventies who exercise and eat healthy amounts of fruits and vegetables have a longer life expectancy, according to research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University studied 713 women aged 70 to 79 years who took part in the Women's Health and Aging Studies. This study was designed to evaluate the causes and course of in living in the community.

"A number of studies have measured the positive impact of exercise and healthy eating on , but what makes this study unique is that we looked at these two factors together," explains lead author, Dr. Emily J Nicklett, from the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

Researchers found that the women who were most physically active and had the highest fruit and were eight times more likely to survive the five-year follow-up period than the women with the lowest rates.

To estimate the amount of fruits and vegetables the women ate, the researchers measured of carotenoids—beneficial plant pigments that the body turns into antioxidants, such as beta-carotene. The more consumed, the higher the levels of carotenoids in the bloodstream.

Study participants' physical activity was measured through a questionnaire that asked the amount of time the spent doing various levels of physical activity, which was then converted to the number of calories expended.

The women were then followed up to establish the links between , exercise and survival rates.

Key research findings included:

  • More than half of the 713 participants (53%) didn't do any exercise, 21% were moderately active, and the remaining 26% were in the most active group at the study's outset.
  • During the five-year follow up, 11.5% of the participants died. Serum carotenoid levels were 12% higher in the women who survived and total physical activity was more than twice as high.
  • Women in the most active group at baseline had a 71% lower five-year death rate than the women in the least active group.
  • Women in the highest carotenoid group at baseline had a 46% lower five-year death rate than the women in the lowest carotenoid group.
  • When taken together, physical activity levels and total serum carotenoids predicted better survival.
"Given the success in smoking cessation, it is likely that maintenance of a healthy diet and high levels of physical activity will become the strongest predictors of health and longevity. Programs and policies to promote longevity should include interventions to improve nutrition and physical activity in older adults," said Dr. Nicklett.

Explore further: Differing lifestyles: A study of ethnicity and health

Related Stories

Differing lifestyles: A study of ethnicity and health

July 8, 2011
In recent years, the UK government has made bold statements regarding the recommendations for living a healthy life; including guidelines for how much fruit and how many vegetables we should eat daily, along with the ideal ...

Vegetables, fruits, grains reduce stroke risk in women

December 1, 2011
Swedish women who ate an antioxidant-rich diet had fewer strokes regardless of whether they had a previous history of cardiovascular disease, in a study reported in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Recommended for you

To reduce postoperative pain, consider sleep—and caffeine

August 18, 2017
Sleep is essential for good mental and physical health, and chronic insufficient sleep increases the risk for several chronic health problems.

Despite benefits, half of parents against later school start times

August 18, 2017
Leading pediatrics and sleep associations agree: Teens shouldn't start school so early.

Doctors exploring how to prescribe income security

August 18, 2017
Physicians at St. Michael's Hospital are studying how full-time income support workers hired by health-care clinics can help vulnerable patients or those living in poverty improve their finances and their health.

Schoolchildren who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try tobacco

August 17, 2017
Vaping - or the use of e-cigarettes - is widely accepted as a safer option for people who are already smoking.

Federal snack program does not yield expected impacts, researchers find

August 17, 2017
A well-intentioned government regulation designed to offer healthier options in school vending machines has failed to instill better snacking habits in a sample of schools in Appalachian Virginia, according to a study by ...

In a nutshell: Walnuts activate brain region involved in appetite control

August 17, 2017
Packed with nutrients linked to better health, walnuts are also thought to discourage overeating by promoting feelings of fullness. Now, in a new brain imaging study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.