NIH-AARP Study Offers Roadmap for Healthy Aging for Older Women

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Dad recently shared the December 2012/January 2013 issue of AARP: The Magazine with me. In thumbing through it, I saw a big article by Dr. John Whyte that focused on “The New American Diet.” It’s an interesting article, and its basis is a major longitudinal research study conducted by the National Institutes of Health and AARP.


    First a little background. The study started in 1995 when 3.5 million questionnaires were mailed to current members of AARP who were between the ages of 50-71.  Forty percent of the study participants were women.  A majority (91 percent) of the female participants were white while six percent were black, two percent were Hispanic and one percent was Asian/others. More than 40 percent of the women had a body mass index (BMI) that was less than 25 while slightly more than 30 percent had a BMI between 25 and 29. Slightly more than 20 percent of the female participants had a BMI at 30 and above.

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    This research effort -- which included participants from California, Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as the cities of Atlanta, GA and Detroit, MI – asked about diet and lifestyle. More than 500,000 people returned the questionnaire. In 1996-1997, researchers mailed participants a questionnaire that asked about risk factors related to lifestyle and behavior. A follow-up survey was mailed between 2004 and 2006.


    There were many findings from this study that should get your attention as you move further into middle age. Here goes:


    Exercise


    Researchers found that participants who spent more time sitting had a greater risk of death than those who did not, even when taking into account physical activity by exercising.  Participants who reported watching television for more than seven hours a day had a greater likelihood of death from all-causes and cardiovascular disease, even if they exercised more than three hours per week. Therefore, reducing the time that you remain seated may help you live a longer life.


    Exercise is also important for cutting your risk of cancer. This study found that men and women who participate in regular vigorous physical activity had a 10-20 – percent lower risk of develop cancers of the kidney, lung, rectum and colon. Furthermore, women who were physically active after menopause had a lower risk of breast cancer than inactive women.


    Dietary Fiber


    Dietary fiber is an important part of our diet as we age. The NIH-AARP Study found that women (and men) who consumed the most dietary fiber were 22 percent less likely to die from any cause as compared to participants who consumed the smallest amount of dietary fiber. Furthermore people who consumed the highest amount of fiber were less likely to die of cardiovascular disease and infectious or respiratory diseases.


    Healthy Lifestyle and Cancer


    Fifthly, participants who had the healthiest lifestyle (no smoking, limited drinking of alcohol, a healthy diet, low body mass index and physical activity) had a 58 percent lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer than participants who had a lower score.


  • The Mediterranean Diet

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    Researchers found that adherence to a Mediterranean- type diet that includes lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish, monounsaturated fats, moderate to low amounts of dairy and alcohol, and low amounts of meat had a lower risk of dying prematurely, including the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Women who embraced this type of diet were 14-percent less likely to die from cancer and 21 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.


    Coffee


    Coffee consumption may help you live longer. Researchers in this study found that older adults who drink caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee have a lower risk of death overall than people who avoid coffee. Furthermore, those who consume three or more cups daily have about a 10-percent lower risk of death than teetotalers. Coffee drinkers also are less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes and infections. The same association, however, is not seen for cancer.


    These research findings help make a good case of what kind of lifestyle you should embrace going into your later years. It’s amazing that lifestyle choices can make such a difference!


    Primary Resources for This Sharepost:


    National Cancer Institute. (2012). NIH-AARP diet and health study.


    Whyte, J. (2012). The new American diet. AARP: The Magazine.

Published On: January 23, 2013