Diet, Exercise Critical to Avoid Disability As We Age

Dorian Martin Health Guide

    A friend and I recently were discussing how the aging process has snuck up on us. Both of us were sidelined for a while by plantar fasciitis. Since then, we’ve tried to resume active lifestyles, but find it’s more difficult than it used to be go get into shape. We’re also seeing our bodies change as we go through the menopausal transition.

    Yet, the other thing we talked about is recommitting to maintaining a healthy lifestyle so we can continue to live the kind of life we want to have. What we’re talking about here is healthy aging. “’Healthy aging’ refers to both the quality and quantity of life—adding life to our years and years to our life,” states the website of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. So why is lifestyle such an important part of aging? A new study out of France addressed this issue in relation to disabilities.

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    The researchers followed 3,982 study participants from Dijon, France over a 12-year period. All participants were 65 years old or above and did not have a disability when the study started. Slightly more than 60 percent of the study participants were women.

    The researchers assessed the participants’ lifestyle behaviors, such as smoking, consumption of fruits and vegetables, physical activity and alcohol consumption.
    By the end of 12 years, the researchers looked at how well the participants could do activities of daily living, such as walking, bathing and dressing themselves, climbing stairs, managing money, managing medications, using a telephone, doing housework, shopping, and using public or private transportation.

    Their assessment found that 1,236 (or 31 percent) study participants had developed a moderate or severe disability related to these tasks. The participants who were experiencing difficultly were older and more likely to be women. They also fund that these participants were less educated and were in worse overall health.

    The researchers’ analysis also found the following:

    • Participants who were inactive or only moderately physically active had a 72-percent increased risk of disability, independent of any other unhealthy habits.
    • Participants who smoked or who had recently quit had a 26-percent increased risk of disability.
    • Participants who consumed fruits and vegetables less than once a day has a 24-percent increased risk of disability.
    • Participants who had all three of these unhealthy behaviors were twice as likely to develop disabilities as participants who didn’t have any of these unhealthy behaviors.
    • No association was identified between alcohol consumption and disability risk.

    The researchers also determined that approximately 30 percent of the association between unhealthy behaviors and disability could be linked to factors such as mental decline, depression, higher body mass index, chronic disease, cardiovascular disease and depression.

    So what should you be aiming for as far as your lifestyle choices? Obviously, quitting smoking is a no-brainer (as is not starting to smoke). I’ve also listed some other recommendations from experts.

  • Exercise

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    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend three options related to physical activity. The first option is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) weekly and muscle strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.  The second option is 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (such as jogging or running) weekly and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days. The third option involves doing an equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise and doing muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days weekly that work all the major muscle groups.


    Tufts University’s nutrition scientists have developed a MyPlate for older adults. “Although calorie needs decline with age due to a slow-down in metabolism and physical activity, nutritional requirements remain the same or in some cases increase,” explains Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. “MyPlate for Older Adults provides examples of foods that contain high levels of vitamins and minerals per serving and are consistent with the federal government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend limiting foods high intrans and saturated fats, salt and added sugars, and emphasize whole grains. MyPlate for Older Adults is intended to be a guide for healthy, older adults who are living independently and looking for examples of good food choices and physical activities.”

    Half of the plate is covered by fruit and vegetable icons. The researchers recommend brightly-colored vegetables and fruits in a range of colors. The plan also includes whole, enriched and fortified grains and cereals such as brown rice and 100 percent whole wheat bread, low- and non-fat dairy products, dry beans, nuts, fish, poultry, lean meat, eggs, liquid vegetable oils, soft spreads low in saturated fat an d trans-fat, spices to replace fat, and fluids such as water and fat-free milk.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Artaud, F. (2013). Unhealthy behaviours and disability in older adults: Three-City Dijon cohort study. BMJ.
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). How much physical activity do older adults need?
    National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2012). The role of healthy lifestyles in healthy aging.
    Preidt, R. (2013). For seniors, unhealthy living may lead to disability. MedlinePlus.
    Tufts University. (20110. MyPlate for older adults.

Published On: July 29, 2013

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