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Mediterranean Diet Adds Years to Life

When Combined With Exercise, Eating a Mediterranean Diet Can Help You Live Longer
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 10, 2007 -- It's a new twist on an old theme, but new research shows once again that diet and exercise are the keys to a longer, healthier life.

Two new studies based on a large U.S. diet and health survey demonstrate the benefits of exercise and diet in reducing health risks and prolonging life.

The first shows people who follow a Mediterranean-style diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy oils, such as those found in fish, olives, and nuts, were less likely to die of cancer, heart disease, or any other cause over a five-year period.

The second shows people who engaged in moderate exercise like walking for at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week, as recommended by national guidelines, were 27% less likely to die during the study than non-exercisers. Even a smaller amount of exercise produced benefits in reducing the risk of death over the short-term, but those healthy benefits increased with more frequent and vigorous exercise.

Diet and Exercise Provide Big Benefits

The studies, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, were both based on data collected from the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study involving 566,407 AARP members aged 50 to 71 in six states who filled out diet and exercise questionnaires between 1995 and 1996.

In the first study, researcher Panagiota N. Mitrou, PhD, currently of the University of Cambridge, England, and colleagues looked at the effect of the Mediterranean diet on the risk of death over five years.

This diet has gained in popularity in recent years thanks to research that shows countries that follow the diet, rich in fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fat, have lower rates of heart disease and other health problems.

This study confirmed those healthy effects and showed men and women who followed a Mediterranean diet were 20% less likely to die from any cause during the study.

In the second study, researcher Michael F. Leitzmann, MD, DrPH, of the National Cancer Institute, and colleagues compared the risk of dying during the study to rates of exercise.

The results showed that people who were moderately active for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week were 27% less likely to die than those that were inactive. But the health benefits of exercise increased with more vigorous activity. Those who engaged in vigorous activity had a 32% lower risk of death during the study; a level of physical activity that was less than recommended was linked to a 19% lower death risk.

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