Healthy Aging

healthy aging

News On the Dietary Front

Healthy aging is about things we can do to improve our health. Anyone who has read this column with regularity knows that taking responsibility for health begins with diet and exercise. 

A new dietary study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, was conducted with 322 people ranging from ages 40 to 65 years, but I suspect the data would be relevant to people older than 65 years. The two-year dietary study looked exclusively at working men and women in Israel who needed dietary intervention because of moderate obesity, type II diabetes or known coronary artery disease.

What makes this study important is that it includes a relatively high number of people. Three diets were randomly assigned with very high compliance. The study was well designed and addressed an important question in a high risk group of people. 

Three Diets Compared

Physicians commonly recommend one of the following three diets to help patients control weight and for other health reasons such as lowering cholesterol and blood sugar: 

Low fat and calorie diet was based on the American Heart Guidelines. This diet suggests 1,500 calories for women and 1,800 for men with 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. Thirty percent of calories should come from fat and 10 percent from saturated fat.

Mediterranean diet suggests 1,500 calories for women and 1,800 for men from fruits and vegetables with a great reduction in red meat. Thirty-five percent of calories should come  from fat, mainly olive oil.

Low carbohydrate diet (Atkins) restricts all carbohydrates but does not restrict calories.  Dieters are instructed to avoid trans fat and get fat and protein sources from vegetables. 


The three diets were all successful in lowering body weight. The Mediterranean and low carbohydrate diets were most effective in keeping weight down, averaging approximately 10 pounds of weight lost per participant.

The low carbohydrate diet resulted in a 20 percent increase in HDL (good) cholesterol and a 14 percent reduction in triglycerides. 

The Mediterranean diet reduced blood glucose by 33mg/dL, a significant reduction compared to the other two diets. 

Take Home Message

The good news is that the diets all work with regard to weight reduction, which is a key strategy in staying healthy, especially since increased weight is associated with cardiovascular disease, some cancers and musculoskeletal problems. Another important lesson is that study participants adhered to diet guidelines for two years. Choosing an appropriate diet and sticking to it are vital to achieving successful outcomes.

Another important lesson is that both the Mediterranean and low carbohydrate diets add additional value. The low carbohydrate diet lowers lipids, which is ideal for patients with heart disease. The Mediterranean diet helps people with diabetes control blood glucose levels.  In other words, diets can be selected with particular health aims in mind. 

The final message is that a diet can be chosen to best satisfy a person’s particular tastes.  And, when combined with regular exercise, health benefits can be magnified.

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Older man wearing bike helmet

Exercise and the Aging Person

It is never too late to start an exercise program. With today's medical technology and scientific advances, the average life-expectancy for men and women is increasing. Coupled with this is the fact that with longer lives, people are looking for a higher quality of living - with greater importance placed on independent, healthy living. Exercise is a great way to keep older people active, but should be approached with caution.

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