Eating better in your 40s can make you healthier in your 70s

Eating better in your 40s can make you healthier in your 70s

Eating better in your 40s can make you healthier in your 70s

Want to age well? Your diet is a major factor. The good news is, even if you’re currently in midlife, it’s not too late to start healthier habits.

A new study presented at the Nutrition 2024 conference found that people who followed a healthy diet from their 40s onward were 43 to 84% more likely to thrive physically and cognitively in their 70s, as well as live independently, when compared with people who ate a poor diet.

According to the study’s author Anne-Julie Tessier, postdoctoral fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the healthy diet included lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fats, nuts, legumes and low-fat dairy, and limited amounts of trans fats, sodium and processed meats. This matches closely with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Tessier tells Yahoo Life that the researchers were “surprised by the strength of the association between healthy eating patterns in midlife and a healthy later life,” especially when considering factors like physical activity and smoking, which are also known to impact health.

One new finding, she says, is the association between healthy aging and the sustainable “planetary health diet,” which focuses on whole foods like fruits, vegetables and legumes, and allows for small amounts of dairy and meat. “This is particularly interesting and important as it suggests that we can eat a diet that benefits both human health and environmental sustainability,” Tessier notes.

Dr. Janese S. Laster, a physician certified in internal medicine, gastroenterology, obesity medicine and nutrition, tells Yahoo Life that this study emphasizes the fact that it’s “never too late” to make a dietary change that impacts health. That, she says, is because changes to the microbiome in your gut occur within one week of shifting your diet, which is when people may start to feel the effects of improved eating patterns.

“We also start to see a reversal of diet related diseases such as high cholesterol, fatty liver, hypertension, diabetes and joint pain,” Laster says, noting that patients also have “improved energy and cognition” when they eat a nutrient-rich diet.

“We see this in Blue Zone populations with patients living into old age being able to continue activities of daily living on their own,” Laster explains. “I see this daily in clinical practice when patients are ecstatic they have gotten their lives back. In less than a month, one of my patients is no longer using her cane for joint pain with just dietary changes.”

Dietitian Courtney Pelitera calls this study “exciting,” as it “gives us some encouragement for people who want to make major changes in midlife,” she says. “We now know these changes will have a positive impact on long term health.”

One thing that Pelitera points out is that the study focused on how well someone was able to adhere to a healthy diet, which can be a challenge for some individuals. That’s why, as a dietitian, she likes to work with patients on finding a diet pattern that they can “stick to consistently.”

“For example, if someone does not have a variety of vegetables that they really enjoy, they are going to have a hard time sticking to a vegan diet,” Pelitera says. “We all know that fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean protein sources are needed for optimal health. The hardest part is figuring out how to make that work for you.” This is where working with a registered dietitian can be helpful.

Pelitera believes that all foods can fit into a healthy diet plan, and notes that there isn’t a single “food or food group that is going to magically cure all health ailments, just as there is no one food or meal that is going to completely ruin your health.”