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Change in Body Mass Index and the link to Diabetes
The link between higher Body Mass Index and diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease is well established. Researchers are now also looking at how age might factor into the equation.

Diet and exercise good for older adults, too
The elderly are especially susceptible to what is known as "metabolic syndrome," an observed combination of risk factors that, taken together, represents an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. These risk factors include high blood pressure, poor cholesterol scores, and diabetes, along with high levels of the markers of inflammation. 

It's never too late to reduce your risk of heart disease
I have written many times on research showing that eating whole grains can reduce your risk of heart disease. These studies had not focused specifically on whether this was true for persons over 65. Researchers in Seattle, Washington sought to establish the relationship between fiber consumption and heart disease in elderly persons.


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Mediterranean Diet, lifestyle factors, and the elderly

Researchers in the Department of Dietetics at Harokopio University, in Athens, Greece, evaluated the combined effects of a Mediterranean Diet, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and other factors on the cholesterol levels of persons 65 and over (Lipids in Hlth and Dis 2005;4:17).

The study's 150 participants, none of which had cardiovascular disease, were interviewed regarding their adherence to a Mediterranean Diet. Their level of adherence was assigned a score from zero to 55. Similarly, the interviewers assessed the participants' level and frequency of exercise, how many alcoholic beverages they consumed in a day, and whether and how much they smoked. For each of those factors, additional scores were assigned, and the diet, exercise, alcohol and smoking scores were added together to create what the researchers term a "healthy index," with higher scores indicating a more healthy lifestyle.

Finally, each participant's Body Mass Index was calculated, and their blood pressure and cholesterol levels were tested: 65% of the participants in the study had high cholesterol, while over 60% had high blood pressure. After analyzing the relationship between cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and their "healthy index," the researchers concluded that the presence of two or more protective factors, such as a high Mediterranean Diet score and not smoking, appeared to reduce their subjects' risk of high cholesterol by 53%. Simply having a better-than-average score for their adherence to the Mediterranean Diet meant a 23% lower risk of high cholesterol.

Another interesting conclusion came after they focused on those subjects who were under treatment for their cholesterol problem and began the Mediterranean Diet after being diagnosed. This combination of treatments (both medication and diet change) reduced their total cholesterol by 26% and their LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) by 29%.

What this means for you

Studies like this one show that it's never too late to improve your health. It's clear that a combination of treatments, including a healthy lifestyle, not smoking, eating a Mediterranean Diet, and moderate alcohol intake can have positive effects on your cholesterol levels.

First posted: August 9, 2006