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BOSTON — Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables combined with a half-hour walk or swim each day could be the key for an enjoyable retirement. According to recent research, following a healthy diet and regularly exercising in midlife are musts in order to ensure optimal health in old age.

The study shows that those who followed both routines were 65% less likely to develop metabolic syndrome. This is a cluster of disorders influenced by high blood pressure, cholesterol and fat, as well as a pot belly or muffin top. Such disorders can lead to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Participants who focused on physical activity or dietary advice alone had 51% and 33% lower odds, respectively. The analysis sheds fresh light on achieving ideal health in the twilight years.

“The earlier people make these lifestyle changes, the more likely they will be to lower their risk of cardiovascular-associated diseases later in life,” says corresponding author Dr. Vanessa Xanthakis, an epidemiologist at Boston University, in a statement. Her team looked at data from 2,379 individuals in the Framingham Heart Study, which has been tracking residents of the Massachusetts town for more than seven decades.

The residents had an average age of 47 when they were first examined from 2008 to 2011. An accelerometer was worn on the hip for eight days to track levels of sedentary and physical activity. Dietary information was collected from questionnaires to measure the kinds and quantities of food and nutrients consumed.

Overall, approximately 28% of volunteers achieved both the physical activity and dietary guidelines, while almost half (47%) managed one. There were fewer cases of metabolic syndrome and serious health conditions in follow-up examinations carried out between 2016 to 2019.

It has been unclear if adherence to the government’s exercise and dietary guidelines – as opposed to just one – confers the most benefits. Exercise guidelines recommend adults achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week – such as walking or swimming. Dietary guidelines – which were updated in January 2021 – offer suggestions for healthy eating patterns, nutritional targets and dietary limits.

According to Dr. Xanthakis, those who met a combination of the two recommendations during midlife did best. This was compared to peers who got regular exercise but ate more junk food – or vice-versa.

“It is noteworthy that we observed a dose-response association of adherence to diet and physical activity guidelines with risk of cardiometabolic disease later in life. Participants who met the physical activity guidelines had progressively lower risk of cardiometabolic disease as they increased adherence to the dietary guidelines,” she says. “Health care professionals could use these findings to further promote and emphasize to their patients the benefits of a healthy diet and a regular exercise schedule to avoid the development of numerous chronic health conditions in the present and in later life.”

Since all participants were white, results cannot be generalized to people in other racial or ethnic groups. Researchers say additional studies with a multi-ethnic sample are needed.

Findings are published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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