The European Journal of Preventive Cardiology has recently published a study indicating that middle-aged adults who maintain a healthy diet tend to have better physical fitness. The research, conducted by Dr. Michael Mi from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, suggests that a good diet may have a similar impact on fitness as walking an extra 4,000 steps per day.
Cardiorespiratory fitness is an essential aspect of overall health and longevity, as it reflects how effectively the body utilizes oxygen during exercise. While exercise plays a crucial role in improving fitness, there are still differences in cardiorespiratory fitness levels among individuals who exercise the same amount, indicating other contributing factors. Although healthy eating has various health benefits, its connection to fitness has remained unclear.
The study in question aimed to examine whether diet quality is linked to physical fitness in adults living in the community. The research included 2,380 participants from the Framingham Heart Study, with an average age of 54 years, and 54% of whom were women. The participants underwent a maximum effort cardiopulmonary exercise test to measure their peak VO2, which is considered the gold standard assessment of fitness.
Additionally, the participants completed a Harvard semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire that assessed their intake of 126 dietary items over the past year, ranging from never or less than once per month to six or more servings per day. The questionnaire’s results were used to rate diet quality using the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI) and Mediterranean-style Diet Score (MDS). Both scores are associated with heart health, with higher scores indicating better quality diets that emphasize vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish, and healthy fats, while limiting red meat and alcohol.
After accounting for several factors such as age, sex, daily energy intake, BMI, smoking, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, diabetes, and physical activity level, the researchers found a positive correlation between diet quality and fitness levels. The study, which included 2,380 individuals, measured diet quality through the AHEI and MDS scores. Participants who scored higher on these scales had a 5.2% and 4.5% greater peak VO2, respectively, indicating better fitness levels.
Dr. Michael Mi, the study author, noted that healthy dietary patterns were strongly and positively linked to fitness levels in middle-aged adults, irrespective of their activity levels. The relationship was more pronounced in younger adults compared to their older counterparts and was observed in both men and women. The researchers also found that healthy eating habits led to better metabolic health, which could be one of the mechanisms that contribute to improved fitness levels.
The study’s limitations include its observational nature, which makes it impossible to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between diet quality and fitness levels. Dr. Mi concluded that consuming a Mediterranean-style diet rich in whole foods and limiting processed foods, red meat, and alcohol is an excellent way to improve diet quality and potentially boost fitness levels.
Source: European Society of Cardiology