Taking Steps Now Should Improve Health in Later Years

New research finds long-term benefits to exercising and eating well.

Posted Apr 07, 2021 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader


  • The closer one adheres to guidelines for healthy eating and physical activity through midlife, the healthier one is likely to be in their senior years.
  • A study confirming these results suggested following the physical activity and dietary guidelines of the U.S. Department of Health.
  • Approaches such as the Mediterranean-style diet can help people meet recommended dietary guidelines.
 Cally Lawson/Pixabay; used with permission
Your current lifestyle may predict your future health.
Source: Cally Lawson/Pixabay; used with permission

Research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that middle-aged adults who follow the U.S. Department of Health’s physical and dietary guidelines are at significantly less risk of developing symptoms of metabolic syndrome, which include obesity (excess abdominal fat), insulin resistance, and high blood pressure. These disorders can, in turn, increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke over time. Previous studies have linked healthier lifestyle choices to other markers of long-standing good health, such as reduced inflammation and higher cognitive function.

Prevent Metabolic Disease

In this study, the researchers looked at data from more than 2,000 participants ages 18 and over, with an average age of 47 years old, a third-generation group of participants in the ongoing Framingham (Massachusetts) Heart Study that began in 1948 and has become a multi-generational study used to collect and analyze family patterns and gather genetic information. These researchers found that close to half of the participants reached the recommended criteria for at least one the guidelines and more than one-fourth met criteria for both physical and dietary guidelines for good health.

They found that those participants who followed both physical and dietary recommendations were 65% less likely to develop metabolic syndrome than those who didn’t either guidelines. Those who only followed physical activity recommendations were 51% less likely and those who only followed dietary recommendations were 33% less likely to develop the cluster of serious health issues that lead to metabolic syndrome. The more participants adhered to the guidelines, the lower their risk of metabolic disease.

Follow These Guidelines

The dietary guidelines recommend following a healthy diet pattern, as exemplified by a Mediterranean-style Diet (or similar type of culturally traditional diet), the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan, or the MIND diet, which is basically a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH programs. All of these diet patterns are plant-based, recommending less meat and processed foos, and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables than the standard Western diet traditionally followed by the majority of Americans. And all of them are likely to maintain or improve your physical health and, potentially, your mental health, now and in the long-term.

The Department of Health’s physical activity guidelines for adults recommend 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous aerobic activity, or some equivalent combination of activity throughout each week. The recommendations also include moderate or more intense muscle-strengthening activities that include all major muscle groups, 2 or more days each week. Older adults should add balance training to an aerobic and muscle-strengthening plan, and be as physically active as they are able and as any existing medical conditions allow.

Talk to Your Health Care Providers

The current study results suggest you can avoid developing many of the diseases associated with aging by taking preventative measures and developing healthy lifestyle habits now. Always check with your health care providers to be sure your diet and exercise programs are both safe and effective. If necessary, your primary health care provider should be able to refer you to dietary and exercise specialists who can help you determine the plans that are most appropriate for you. 


Lee J, Walker ME, Bourdillon MT, et al. Coonjoint Associations of Adherence to Physical Activity and Dietary Guidelines with Cardiomeatbolic Health: The Framingham Heart Study. Journal of the American Heart Association. April 6, 2021: 10(7)


DASH and Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay (MIND) Diets are associated with fewer depressive symptoms over time. The Journals of Gerontology. January 2021: 76(1).


Mediterranean and Traditional Diets/Oldways


DASH Eating Plan/NHLBI


MIND Diet/Mayo Clinic


Executive Summary: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Ed.


Dietary Guidelines for Americans