Exercise, eating healthy mid-life can prevent serious health problems in older years

A diet of vegetables and other healthy foods combined with a routine of regular physical activity may be key to middle-aged adults who achieve optimal cardiometabolic health later in life, according to new research by the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Cardiometabolic health risk factors include metabolic syndrome, a group of disorders that include excess fat around the waist, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure. The presence of metabolic syndrome can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, according to the study.

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that mid-life later in life has the most beneficial results for cardiometabolic health. The physical activity guidelines recommend that adults achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week, such as walking or swimming. The nutritional guidelines, updated in January 2021, offer suggestions for healthy eating habits, nutritional goals, and nutritional limits.

In an analysis of data from participants in the Framingham Heart Study, which began more than 70 years ago in Framingham, Massachusetts, the investigators looked at data from 2,379 adults aged 18 and over and their compliance with the two guidelines. They observed that following a combination of the two recommendations during midlife was associated with a lower chance of metabolic syndrome and developing serious health conditions in participants aged 2016 to 2019, according to the study’s authors.

“Health professionals could use these findings to further promote and emphasize the benefits of a healthy diet and regular exercise regimen for their patients to avoid the development of numerous chronic conditions in present and later life,” said author Vanessa Xanthakis , PhD, FAHA, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Biostatistics in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine in Boston, in a press release. “The sooner people make these lifestyle changes, the more likely they are to lower their risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.”

Study participants were selected from the third generation of the Framingham Heart Study. Participants were studied between 2008 and 2011, and researchers assessed physical activity using a special device known as an omnidirectional accelerometer.

The device, which records sedentary and physical activity, was worn on the participant’s hip for 8 days. Researchers also gathered nutritional information from food frequency questionnaires to measure the type and amount of food and nutrients consumed.

In this analysis, the researchers found that 28% of all participants met the recommendations in the guidelines for physical activity and diet, and 47% met the recommendations in only one of the guidelines.

The researchers also observed that:

  • Participants who followed physical activity recommendations alone were 51% less likely to develop metabolic syndrome.
  • Participants who followed the dietary guidelines alone had a 33% lower chance.
  • Participants who followed both guidelines were 65% less likely to develop metabolic syndrome.

“It is noteworthy that we observed a dose-response relationship between adherence to diet and physical activity guidelines and the risk of cardiometabolic disease later in life,” Xanthakis said in a press release. “Participants who met physical activity guidelines had an increasingly lower risk of cardiometabolic disease because they followed dietary guidelines better.”

The results cannot be extrapolated to people of other races or ethnic groups because, according to the study’s authors, all study participants were white adults. They added that additional studies with a multiethnic sample of participants are needed.


Exercise and a healthy diet in midlife can prevent serious health problems in later years. American Heart Association. Published March 31, 2021. Accessed March 31, 2021. years

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