A Good Diet Can Mean a Good Life for Older Adults

Better diet quality found to improve functioning and quality of life later

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The ability to live and function independently is a big concern for seniors. A recent study found a simple way to help improve the quality of life in their later years.

Researchers looked at the correlation between the quality of a person's diet and the ability to perform the activities of daily living years later.

The study suggested that a good diet now can contribute to a good quality of life later.

"Work with a nutritionist to set up a healthy diet plan."

This study was conducted by Bamini Gopinath, PhD, from University of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia, and colleagues.

The research study examined the diets of people who had participated in The Blue Mountains Eye Study. The research team conducted surveys for their diet study on 3,654 people at the beginning of the study, as well as five, 10 and 15 years later. After five years, 2,334 people were available for follow-up surveys, 1,952 were available at 10 years and 1,149 were available after 15 years.

The researchers collected information on the participants’ diets at all time points and used the data from years five and 10 in their analyses.

Total diet scores were assigned to the food eaten. The researchers divided the diet scores into four groups, from highest to lowest. The highest scores indicated the best quality diets, and the lowest scores were assigned to the lowest quality diets.

Subjects were given a survey to assess their quality of life five years and 10 years into the study. They recorded their activities of daily living after 10 and 15 years. Some examples of daily living activities on the survey were eating, walking, shopping and housework.

Analysis of the quality of life data showed that the people who ate the lowest quality diet were more likely to be men. In the group who ate the lowest quality diet, 49.9 percent were men, while 32.1 percent of the group with the best diet quality were men.

In the group that completed the activities of daily living surveys, 52.5 percent of the people who ate the lowest quality diet were men, and only 32.7 percent of people who ate the highest quality diet were men. There were more smokers who ate the lowest quality diet at 9.1 percent, compared to 3.1 percent in the high quality diet group.

When the researchers looked at the association of diet quality at the start of the study with quality of life at five years, they found that physical function, general health and vitality were all improved in those in the highest diet quality compared to the lowest diet quality group.

After five years, people who ate the highest quality had a 50 percent decrease in the odds of not being able to perform the activities in the instrument of daily living, compared to people who at the lowest quality diet.

The researchers speculated that the higher diet quality — usually associated with eating higher amounts of vegetables, fish, fruit and whole grains — may have decreased proteins seen in inflammation. These inflammatory proteins have been reported to lower a person’s ability to perform some physical activities in later life. They also hypothesized that the antioxidants in the fruits and vegetables eaten in the high quality diet group may have help prevent the decline in physical ability.

“These findings could stimulate targeted intervention strategies that modify dietary practices of the aging population, thereby potentially preserving or delaying further deterioration in general well-being and physical functioning,” the authors concluded.

This study was published in the February issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council funded The Blue Mountains Eye Study.

The authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 30, 2014
Last Updated:
January 31, 2014