The body is a miraculous vessel — it brings life, wields creativity, and provides mobility and functionality that allow for connection with others.
When it comes to aging, everybody is different and everybody needs different things. However, the two main areas of health that promote healthy and graceful aging are diet and exercise.
But between the two, which one is more important?
The importance of a healthy diet for aging well
When it comes to aging well, a healthy diet is essential. In addition to the healing power of food, healthy eating can lower the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes, a few of the major conditions that are common in seniors because they affect people over time. A poor diet, combined with lack of movement, puts unnecessary stress on the body which speeds up certain processes like inflammation throughout the whole body. This means more pain, more weakness and a shorter lifespan.
Managing a diet with chronic illnesses such as kidney disease can be tough, but they don't have to be miserable. Lowering your sugar and salt intake may take a little bit of extra effort, but it's worth the payoff. A healthy diet can also lower cholesterol and blood pressure which reduces inflammation in the body as well as decreases risk for heart disease, stroke, and trauma-related injuries.
Food is fuel for the body, and in order to keep it functioning well into your later years in life, quality food is essential.
The importance of exercise for aging well
Moving your body is also important for aging well. The benefits of exercise are numerous, but can be broken up into two main groups: mental and physical.
Maintaining a healthy mind is just as important with maintaining a healthy body. To keep our minds active we need to challenge them through different activities including reading and learning new skills like playing an instrument or learning another language.
When it comes to the physical element of exercising while aging, the primary benefits include improved cardiovascular health, improved mental acuity, and reduced risk of injury.
Cardiovascular benefits are the most easily seen in aging adults when they include weight training into their exercise regime. Weight training has been shown to improve bone density which helps reduce osteoporosis that occurs with age. The increased muscle mass also provides additional strength for everyday tasks.
Which is more important: diet or exercise?
When it comes to aging, research studies about exercise and diet are often contradictory. Some say that the most important factor in aging well is what we eat, while others find that people who stay active with physical activity age better than those who just focus on nutrition. While many agree it's all of these factors together which lead to a healthy lifestyle, here we'll explore both sides of the research.
Research that suggests diet is more important for healthy aging
One of the most prominent pieces of research on this topic was conducted by UCLA's Aging Research Center. In a study published in the journal "Ageing International", researchers found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet had better cognitive abilities and were able to better solve problems, recall information, and make decisions compared to those not following such a specific diet.
Studies performed by Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas, a neurologist from Columbia University Medical Center found that those who followed this diet as well as exercised regularly had a lower chance of "mild cognitive impairment," which is believed to be the precursor to Alzheimer's Disease.
There are many other eating plans that promote healthy aging, such as the MIND diet, which was developed by researchers at Rush University with funding from the National Institutes of Health. Foods that are part of this plan include green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, and whole grains. Nuts, berries, beans or seeds are included in small amounts as well. Olive oil is encouraged over butter or margarine for cooking purposes.
Overall, research is in support of the idea that eating well has a direct impact on healthy aging. Of course, the effects of healthy eating can be supplemented by a regular exercise routine, it is clear that the core of our body's health is what we use to fuel it.
Research that suggests exercise is more important for healthy aging
Exercise is another factor that has been linked to healthy aging. In a study published in the Aging and Disease journal, it was found that exercise decreased mortality rates by up to 40% when compared with those who didn't exercise at all. People who exercised regularly had a lower risk of heart disease as well, which can be seen as secondary to the decreased risk of mortality. Also, people who exercised regularly were less likely to become demented or disabled in their golden years.
Other research includes a study done at Wake Forest School of Medicine, where researchers found that regular exercise led to an increase in brain volume, meaning it helps keep your mind sharp.
Additionally, another experiment conducted by the University of Alabama-Birmingham concluded that people who are physically active have better memory recall than those who are more sedentary.
Like many, it's difficult to say which is more important for healthy aging: diet or exercise. Both elements of a healthy lifestyle have many consequences when neglected.
While exercise has tremendous benefits for the aging body and mind, there is also evidence that suggests exercise alone cannot make up for a poor diet when it comes to healthy aging and chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Similarly, a healthy diet can promote bodily health and maintenance, but without a regular exercise routine, your muscles and bones may still become weaker.
That being said, it's probably safe to conclude that both diet and exercise are important for healthy aging. Aging well is a combination of the choices you make every day about how you manage your lifestyle (including habits like sleeping, eating, drinking alcohol), as well as taking care of yourself when illness or injury arises.
In order to age well, make sure to find a balanced routine in both your diet and exercise plans. If you aren't sure where to begin, start with a short walk every day and include leafy green vegetables in every meal. Talk to your doctor for more advice on how to promote healthy aging with your unique circumstances.