Diet and Lifestyle Over 50

views updated

Diet and lifestyle over 50


Diet and lifestyle are important at any age, but as adults grow older, these two factors are among the most important in determining health and quality of life. Maintaining a healthy, well balanced diet can lead to good health, high energy, and longevity. Equally as important is life style which includes exercise , access to proper healthcare, not smoking , significant relationships , reduced stress , and spirituality .


From following a healthy low fat diet and exercising daily to prayer and pet ownership, the importance of diet and lifestyle during the second half of life cannot be underestimated. In the past five years there have been hundreds of research projects and studies designed to measure the influence of diet and lifestyle on health, well-being, and longevity. Most agree that following a healthy diet, participating in moderate exercise, accessing adequate healthcare, lowering stress levels, maintaining healthy relationships, and attending to spiritual needs are all part of a healthy, successful life after 50.

When considering diet after the age of 50, research supports the common wisdom of eating a well balanced diet low in fat and high in fresh fruits and vegetables. Maintaining or achieving a healthy weight is especially important at this age and can contribute to a longer life. According to the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee, maintaining a healthy body weight, eating low fat foods, participating in regular exercise, avoiding tobacco, and consuming alcohol in moderation are all crucial to heart health. These recommendations are especially significant since heart disease is among the most common causes of death for people over the age of 50.

While various diets may be in fashion on any given day, research such as studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American Association of Retired Persons (AARP ) supports the conventional wisdom of following a low fat diet. In 2007, the NIH and AARP released data showing a significant relationship between high fat in take and an increased risk of invasive breast cancer in women. Other results of that large, multi-year study found evidence to support the importance of maintaining a healthy weight that included finding an increased risk for colon cancer , prostate cancer , and endometrial cancer among the overweight participants when compared to those with healthy weights. In 2006, the Massachusetts Medical Society found that obesity during midlife was associated with as much as a 40 percent greater risk of death when compared to individuals of healthy weight in the same age group.

In addition to eating a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco products is essential to good health. Similarly, drinking more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women has been found to increase the occurrence of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Higher alcohol consumption is also linked to higher rates of depression and a shorter life span. Drinking in moderation, as much as one drink per day for women and two drinks a day for men has been linked to reduced rates of brain cancer and may help prevent some types of heart disease.

When combined with a healthy diet and moderate alcohol consumption, exercise is also an important factor for maintaining health over the age of 50. Not only does exercise help maintain a healthy body weight, it is also important in preventing disease. The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports determined that moderate physical activity of as little as 30 minutes per day reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke . Moderate physical activity can be as simple as taking a brisk walk once a day. Moderate exercise has also been shown to reduce stress and elevate mood, both important features of a healthy lifestyle.

Both immediate and long term stress can have a negative impact on health. In 2007, The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that mental stress could induce an irregular heart beat that could be potentially fatal, and in 2008, cardiologists at the University of Florida found that mental stress reduced blood flow through the heart. Reducing stress has been shown to lower risks for conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. There are many ways to reduce stress and achieve a calm mental state. Biofeedback , meditation, yoga , and even pet ownership have all been shown to help alleviate stress.

In addition to stress, depression can also be detrimental to health, especially after 50. Several studies have linked poor health and shortening of life span to depression. Conversely, a positive outlook and generally happy mood state has been shown to have positive benefits as diverse as fighting the common cold and increasing life span. A 2003 study found that individuals with positive emotional states were less likely to develop cold symptoms when exposed to active cold viruses than individuals with negative emotional states. Other studies have suggested that a depressed mood can slow the healing times of wounds. A remarkable ongoing study of elderly nuns conducted by the University of Kentucky found that a positive outlook leads to a longer life. At age 22 the nuns were asked to write autobiographies, by a margin of two to one, 60 years later, the nuns who had positive or happy recollections of their childhoods lived longer than the nuns who had negative or unhappy recollections. The authors of this study attribute the increase longevity to a more balanced or positive mental state in general.

Factors that can help prevent or reduce depression also include having a social network. Having meaningful relationships can contribute to improved self esteem and good mental health and can enrich daily life. Having relationships such as friends and family can help keep the immune system healthy, stave off depression, and keep the mind sharp. Loneliness can cause the body to react in a similar fashion to stress, and studies have shown that older people who feel needed and useful live longer.

Participating in a corporate expression of faith can create a sense of belonging and help maintain a group of friends. According to Dr. Michael Roizen, author of Real Age: Are You as Young as You Can Be?, attending a religious service regularly can add two years to a life. While there is little data supporting the effectiveness of prayer by others in health and well-being, many studies in the past few years have found that participating in prayer and having a strong faith can improve health, well-being, and longevity. Studies from several universities have shown that among hospital patients, those who did not attend religious services remained in the hospital three times longer than those who said they attended such services. Spirituality can help give life meaning at any stage, ensure connection to a community, and may even extend life.


As with many issues relating to health and well being, factors that affect diet and lifestyle may be influenced by income level. In general, people over the age of 50 who have a lower income and limited access to healthcare may have a poorer quality of life. Race, however, appears to have less of an impact. In 2007 a study published in the Journal of Public Health reported no significant difference in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes between black and whites when socioeconomic factors were controlled for. These data led researchers to conclude that income factors were more significant than race in determine risk for developing type 2 diabetes.


  • Would changing my diet make me feel better or live longer?
  • How should I change my diet?
  • What can I do to improve my health?
  • What type of exercise should I do and how often?
  • How can I stop smoking?
  • How much alcohol is too much?
  • Are there choices I could make to feel better and improve my quality of life?

Gender may also be significant in the results of a poor diet and lifestyle. Relative to men, women suffer a more significant amount of disease related to obesity, mostly because of differences in health-related quality of life. Yet, women of any race have a longer life expectancy than men of the same race.


The purpose of diet and lifestyle after 50 is as varied as the age group itself. A healthy diet can prevent disease, improve quality of life, and may lead to a longer life. A poor diet, on the other hand, can cause premature aging, reduced immunity, a higher rate of disease, and a shorter life span.

Lifestyle can also promote a healthy, happy, longer life, or it may contribute to illness, depression, and loss of years of life. Much of quality of life after 50 is directly related to diet and lifestyle.


The challenges to achieving the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle include lower socioeconomic status, chronic diseases, limited access to adequate healthcare, isolation , depression, unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive drinking, and the difficulty of changing habits.


The risks of a healthy diet and lifestyle are few; however, a poor diet, consisting of high fat and refined sugars can lead to increased risk of developing most types of cancer, a higher rate of heart disease and stroke, obesity and diabetes, and a shorter life. Quality of life is impacted because poor health and obesity generally limit mobility and access to people and experiences that bring a higher quality to life.


Biofeedback —A technique used to train people to improve their health by learning to affect bodily processes such as heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin temperature to achieve a relaxed or pain free state.

Cardiovascular disease —Diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

Endometrial cancer —Abnormal tissue growth or cancer in the lining of the uterus.

Meditation —A state of relaxation achieved by concentration on breathing and heart rate and repeating a simple word or mantra.

Socioeconomic status —A measure based on income, level of education, occupation, and role or status within the community.

Type 2 diabetes —The most common form of diabetes, it occurs when the body does not make enough insulin or does not use the insulin produced by the body to effectively create energy from sugar in the diet.

Yoga —A system of exercises and poses used to help achieve relaxation and a feeling of well being.

Lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, little physical activity, and a high stress level can also contribute to increased illness, reduced quality of life, and a shortened life span.


The results of a healthy diet and life style include improved health, less disease, few or less severe symptoms of chronic diseases, a higher quality of life, and a longer life.

Adopting a well balanced low fat diet can show immediate benefits. Better concentration, higher energy level, improved sleep and libido have all been reported by people following such a diet. On the other hand, a high fat diet has been linked with increased rates of most types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, and a shorter life span.

A lifestyle that includes relief of stress, maintenance of relationships, and faith or spirituality has been linked to a healthier, more fulfilling, and longer life.

Poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, and isolation have been linked to higher rates of chromic diseases such as cancer and heart disease, depression, and shorter life span.

Daily choices about diet and lifestyle can create a positive or negative quality of life for years to come and may even determine how long that life is.



Weeks, David, Secrets of the Superyoung: the Scientific Reasons Some People Look Ten Years Younger Than They Really Are—and How You Can, Too. New York, NY: Villard, 1998

Roizen, Michael. Real Age: Are You as Young as You Can Be? New York, NY: Cliff Street Books, 2001


Adams, K., M. Leitzmann, D. Albanes, V. Kipnis, T. Mouw, A. Hollenbeck, and A. Schatzkin. “Body mass and colorectal cancer risk in the NIH-AARP cohort.” American Journal of Epidemiology (July 2007): 36–45.

Adams, K., A. Schatzkin, T. Harris, V. Kipnis, T. Mouw, R. Ballard-Barbash, A. Hollenbeck, and M. Leitzmann. “Overweight, obesity, and mortality in a large prospective cohort of persons 50 to 71 years old.” New England Journal of Medicine (Aug 2006): 736–738.

American College of Cardiology Foundation Task Force on Clinical Expert Consensus Documents (Writing Committee to Develop an Expert Consensus Document on Complementary and Integrative Medicine). “Integrating Complementary Medicine Into Cardiovascular Medicine.” American Journal of the College of Cardiology 2005: 184–221.

Calton, B., S. Chang, M. Wright, V. Kipnis, K. Lawson, F. Thompson, A. Subar, T. Mouw, D. Campbell, P. Hurwitz, A. Hollenbeck, A. Schatzkin, and M. Leitzmann. “History of diabetes mellitus and subsequent prostate cancer risk in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.” Cancer Causes Control (June 2007): 493–503.

Chang, S., J. Lacey Jr., L. Brinton, P. Hartge, K. Adams, T. Mouw, L. Carroll, A. Hollenbeck, A. Schatzkin, and M. Leitzmann. “Lifetime weight history and endometrial cancer risk by type of menopausal hormone use in the NIH-AARP diet and health study.” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers (April 2007): 723–730.

Coen, H. van Gool, I. Gertrudis, I. Kempen, Hans Bosma, Martin P.J. van Boxtel, Jelle Jolles, and J. van Eijk. “Associations Between Lifestyle and Depressed Mood: Longitudinal Results From the Maastricht Aging Study.” American Journal of Public Health (May 2007):887–894.

Coen, H., Gertrudis, I. van Gool1, Brenda Kempen, W. Pennin, W. Dorly, J. Deeg, Aartjan, T. Beekman, and Jacques van Eijk. “Relationship between changes in depressive symptoms and unhealthy lifestyles in late middle aged and older persons: results from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam.” Age and Aging 2003: 81–87.

Danner, D., D. Snowdon, and W. Friesen. “Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the Nun Study.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2001: 804–813.

Freedman, ND, C. Abnet, M. Leitzmann, T.Mouw, A. Subar, A. Hollenbeck, A. Schatzkin. “A prospective study of tobacco, alcohol, and the risk of esophageal and gastric cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.” American Journal of Epidemiology 2007: 1424–33.

Freedman, N., A. Schatzkin, M. Leitzmann, A. Hollenbeck, and C. Abnet. “Alcohol and head and neck cancer risk in a prospective study.” British Journal of Cancer 2007: 1469–74.

Lawson, K., M. Wright, A. Subar, T. Mouw, A. Schatzkin, and M. Leitzmann. “Multivitamin use and risk of prostate cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2007:754–64.

Thiébaut, A., V. Kipnis, S. Chang, A. Subar, F. Thompson, P. Rosenberg, A. Hollenbeck, M. Leitzmann, and A. Schatzkin. “Dietary fat and postmenopausal invasive breast cancer in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study cohort.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute March (2007): 418–419.

Torpy, J., A. Burke, and R. Glass. “Acute Emotional Stress and the Heart.” Journal of the American Medical Association 2007: 360.

Wright, M. S. Chang, A. Schatzkin, D. Albanes, V. Kipnis, T. Mouw, P. Hurwitz, A. Hollenbeck, and M. Leitzmann. “Prospective study of adiposity and weight change in relation to prostate cancer incidence and mortality.” Cancer 2007: 675–684.

Wright, M., S. Weinstein, K. Lawson, D. Albanes, A. Subar, L. Dixon, T. Mouw, A. Schatzkin, and M. Leitzmann. “Supplemental and dietary vitamin E intakes in relation to prostate cancer incidence and mortality in a large prospective study.” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarker 2007: 1128–35.

Deborah L. Nurmi MS