We've long known that exercising and eating fruits and veggies can, over the long-term, help improve both the quality and quantity of our years. But the effect of healthy behaviors on longevity among those who have already reached senior citizen status may also be strong. That's especially true when a produce-heavy diet and exercise routine have been combined, according to new research.
A study in this month's Journal of the American Geriatrics Society finds that women in their 70s who live in senior citizen communities may still be able to improve the length of their years with an exercise and healthy eating plan. The researchers studied the exercise and eating habits of 713 women, aged 70 to 79, as part of the Women's Health and Aging Studies.
They found that women with both the highest level of physical fitness, as measured by survey responses, and the highest consumption of fruits and vegetables (measured via a blood test) were eight times less likely to die than the women who performed the worst in both of these categories.
Each category, individually, was also effective. All told, women who were in the most active group at the start of the study were 71 percent less likely to die over the five-year period of study than the least active group. And among those who survived, their average serum carotenoid levels -- the compound researchers looked for in the blood tests to gauge high-produce diet -- was 12 percent higher than in the group who died.
So what's the takeaway? It's never too late to up the veggie, fruit and exercise quotients in your life -- and to great effect. This study proves that the returns to women in their 70s are significant, and that could be a good impetus for improved programming at senior facilities and among geriatric doctors.
Programs and policies to promote longevity should include interventions to improve nutrition and physical activity in older adults, lead author Dr. Emily J Nicklett, from the University of Michigan School of Social Work said in a statement.
Inspired? Check out this list of exercises that have been found to increase longevity.
Take The Stairs
In 2008, a small Swiss study found that sedentary people who switched from taking escalators and elevators to taking the stairs <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7591311.stm" target="_hplink">cut their risk of dying prematurely by 15 percent</a>. "This suggests that stair climbing can have major public health implications," lead researcher Dr. Philippe Meyer, told the BBC. An earlier look at data from the Harvard Alumni Health Study also found that climbing 35 or more flights of stairs a week significantly <a href="http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/151/3/293.short" target="_hplink">increased longevity</a> when compared to people who climbed fewer than 10 stories a week. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mariachily/3381125472/" target="_hplink">mariachily</a></em>
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/bicycle-bike-commuting-tips_n_1427869.html" target="_hplink">Biking to work</a> is a great way to squeeze exercise into your day, spend some time outside and even save on gas money. But a leisurely ride, while it might leave you less sweaty upon arrival at the office, won't do as much for your lifespan as if you really ride it out. A study of <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110829070507.htm" target="_hplink">Copenhagen cyclists</a> found that men who pedaled the fastest lived more than five years longer than slower cycling men, and the fastest women cyclists lived almost four years longer. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/3801963043/" target="_hplink">terren in Virginia</a></em>
Take A Swim
A 2009 analysis of data from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study found that men who swam regularly had about a 50 percent <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/02/02/idUS159078+02-Feb-2009+PRN20090202" target="_hplink">smaller risk of dying</a> than sedentary men -- but swimmers also had a lower mortality rate than <a href="http://www.prevention.com/fitness/fitness-tips/swim-longer-life" target="_hplink">men who walked and ran</a> for their exercise. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/west_point/4752428605/" target="_hplink">West Point Public Affairs</a></em>
Pick Up The (Walking) Pace
A <a href="http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/305/1/50.full" target="_hplink">2011 study</a> found that people who naturally walk at a pace of one meter per second, about 2.25 mph, or faster, <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40914372/ns/health-fitness/t/walk-faster-you-just-might-live-longer/#.T6f8JZ9Ytdo" target="_hplink">lived longer than their slower peers</a>. But walking pace might be more of an <em>indicator</em> of longevity rather than a way to increase it, the study's author cautioned. "Your body chooses the walking speed that is best for you, and that is your speed, your health indicator," lead researcher Dr. Stephanie Studenski told MyHealthNewsDaily. "Going out and walking faster does not necessarily mean you will suddenly live longer," she said. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/29143375@N05/4012888936/" target="_hplink">Justin Scott Campbell</a></em>
Work Out For 15 Minutes A Day
Some think to get the full benefit of a good workout, you need to be sweating for a full 30 minutes -- or longer. But with so many people struggling to find a spare 30 minutes, researchers have begun to investigate if a shorter sweat session could be just as good. A 2011 study found when compared to sedentary people, <a href="http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)60749-6/abstract" target="_hplink">15 minutes of daily activity</a>, like brisk walking, <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/15/us-exercise-taiwan-idUSTRE77E69L20110815 " target="_hplink">added three years to life expectancy</a>, according to Reuters. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica/3616976712/" target="_hplink">lululemon athletica</a></em>
Kick It Up A Notch
Walking faster, cycling harder -- there's an underlying theme to many of the benefits of exercise: <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7707624" target="_hplink">intensity</a>. Overall, <a href="http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/273/15/1179.short" target="_hplink">vigorous activities</a> seem to have more life-lengthening powers than nonvigorous activities, according to a 1995 study. In fact, <a href="http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/165/20/2355" target="_hplink">intense exercise may double the years added</a> by moderate exercise, according to a 2005 study. Five days a week of walking for 30 minutes led to 1.3 to 1.5 additional years, <em>The Washington Post</em> reported, but intense exercise, like running half an hour five days a week, resulted in <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/14/AR2005111401051.html" target="_hplink">3.5 to 3.7 extra years</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/frankjuarez/2334732010/" target="_hplink">frankjuarez</a></em>