How to live longer: Mediterranean diet boosts longevity

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The association between diet and longevity continues to be strengthened through research. There are many different dietary approaches that help erect barriers against chronic diseases, such as heart disease, but one appears to trump all others. A Mediterranean-style diet has been shown to provide a host of health benefits that add up to a longer life.

Researchers in a study published in the Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism conducted a review into the existing literature on a Mediterranean-style diet to ascertain the extent to which this popular dietary approach extends life expectancy.

They cited a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies published from 1966 to 2008 (which included more than 1.5 million subjects) which showed that a strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet “is associated with a significant improvement in health status, as seen by a significant reduction in overall mortality (nine percent), mortality from cardiovascular diseases (nine percent), incidence of or mortality from cancer (six percent), and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (13 percent)”.

Given its impact on chronic disease, it is little wonder that, together with a healthy lifestyle, it can prolong life expectancy.

“Several researchers have tried to understand how the Mediterranean diet could contribute to the achievement of a healthy ageing,” noted the review researchers.

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They singled out one notable study that suggested the diet’s scope for boosting longevity.

“The Healthy Aging: a Longitudinal study in Europe (HALE), which aimed to evaluate the association of a specific diet and lifestyle with the mortality rate in the elderly population, showed that, even at an age between 70 and 90, following a Mediterranean diet in the context of a healthy lifestyle reduces all causes of death by more than 50 percent,” the researchers wrote.

More recently, a European project called the New Dietary Strategies Addressing the Specific People of Europe for Healthy Aging in Europe confirmed the protective benefits of the diet.

As the review researchers reported, more than one thousand and two hundred volunteers over the age of 65 from five different European countries were recruited and only those following a Mediterranean diet showed a decrease in levels of C-reactive protein – a well-known marker of systemic inflammation and cardiovascular risk factor.

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What’s more, they also observed an improvement of the lipid profile, in terms of triglyceride levels and of the ratio between total cholesterol and high density lipoproteins (HDL).

Triglyceride levels, total cholesterol and HDL are all factors that influence the risk of heart disease.

What’s included in a Mediterranean-style diet?

The Mediterranean diet varies by country and region, so it has a range of definitions.

“But in general, it’s high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods,” explains the NHS.

To optimise the longevity benefits of eating well, you should also engage in regular physical activity.

Adults should do some type of physical activity every day – any type of activity is good for you, notes the NHS.

“Do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week,” advises the health body.

Moderate activity will raise your heart rate, and make you breathe faster and feel warmer.

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