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Exercise and Healthy Diet in Midlife Lower Chance of Health Problems in Later Years

CardioSmart News

We all know the benefits of getting regular physical activity and following a heart healthy diet, but it seems committing to both in midlife may help stave off cardiovascular disease later in life.

According to the new study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, people who met basic guidelines for both routine exercise and heart-healthy eating were less likely to develop cardiometabolic risk factors – for example, excess belly fat, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, or abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. This clustering of conditions, known as metabolic syndrome, set the stage for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

The analysis of 2,379 U.S. adults from the Framingham Heart Study, which began more than 70 years ago, is the first to assess whether adherence to both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines for physical activity and diet – rather than only one of the two – has more benefit on cardiometabolic outcomes later in life. The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans encourage at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, a week for most adults. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans include fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, nuts and other healthy foods.

The study findings “underscore the importance of maintaining both a regular physical activity schedule and following a healthy diet in middle adulthood to lower risk of developing cardiometabolic disease in later life,” researchers said.

Study participants were 47 years old on average and just over half were women. They each wore a device placed on the hip for eight days to track sedentary and physical activity. Food questionnaires were used to assess the types and amount of foods and nutrients consumed.

Among the participants, 28% met recommendations for both physical activity and dietary guidelines, while 47% followed recommendations for one or the other, but not both. The data showed that participants who adhered to both sets of guidelines were 65% less likely to develop metabolic syndrome and other conditions in their senior years. In contrast, those who followed only the physical activity recommendation had a 51% lower chance of having the conditions that lead to metabolic syndrome. Those who followed just the dietary guidelines had a 33% lower chance.

“These data strengthen current evidence that adherence to both guidelines in middle adulthood may confer the lowest risk of metabolic syndrome, which often precedes overt [cardiovascular disease],” the authors concluded.

The study is limited in that it only included Whites, so further study is needed to see whether the results hold true in other racial and ethnic groups.

This study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the American Heart Association, the Evans Medical Foundation, and Boston University School of Medicine.

For more information, visit CardioSmart.org/HealthyLiving.

Conjoint Associations of Adherence to Physical Activity and Dietary Guidelines With Cardiometabolic Health: The Framingham Heart Study,” Journal of the American Heart Association, March 31.

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