- Women in their seventies with a healthy diet and who take regular exercise are eight times more likely to live a further five years than their more idle counterparts
By Jenny Hope
PUBLISHED: 06:41 EST, 1 June 2012 | UPDATED: 19:01 EST, 1 June 2012
The young are forever being told to eat their greens – and that a bit of exercise every day will help them stay fit.
However, it appears the same advice holds true even if you’re over 70. Researchers found women in their 70s who ate plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and were active lived longer than those who did no exercise and ate little fruit and veg.
Those who had the most healthy diet and did the most exercise were eight times more likely to live a further five years than their idle counterparts, says the study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
It follows evidence from Oxford University which suggests 15,000 British lives would be saved by sticking to five-a-day advice. However, average consumption is three portions a day.
In the latest study, researchers in America at the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University looked at data from 713 women aged 70 to 79.
Lead researcher Dr Emily Nicklett, from Michigan university, said: ‘A number of studies have measured the positive impact of exercise and healthy eating on life expectancy, but what makes this study unique is that we looked at these two factors together.’
The researchers measured blood levels of carotenoids-beneficial plant pigments that the body turns into antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, to check fruit and veg intake.
The more fruits and vegetables consumed, the higher the levels of carotenoids in the bloodstream.
The women’s physical activity was measured through a questionnaire that asked the amount of time 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 healthy eating, exercise and survival rates.
‘The maintenance of a healthy diet and high levels of physical activity will become the strongest predictors of health and longevity’
In the five-year follow up, 11.5 per cent of the women had died. But serum carotenoid levels in the survivors were 12 per cent higher and phsucal exercise was twice as high.
Women in the most active group had a 71 per cent lower five-year death rate than the women in the least active group.
And women in the highest carotenoid group had a 46 per cent lower five-year death rate than the women in the lowest carotenoid group.
Dr Nicklett said: ‘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.’
The study is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.