Lifespan can be affected by a combination of genetics and lifestyle, and there may be a simple way to increase the chances of living longer. Two new studies suggest that people can live a longer life simply by eating at least three servings of whole grains a day and exercising for just fifteen minutes.
The first study comes from Dr. Qi Sun and other researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They published their findings in the journal Circulation from the American Heart Association (AHA). Through a meta-analysis review of twelve other studies, the researchers sought to discover the effect of eating whole grains on health and longevity. The studies involved 786,000 people in total and included research published up to February 2016 along with unpublished data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III which ran from 1988 to 1994.
When the researchers combined and analyzed all the data, they found that those who ate a 16-gram serving of whole grains could reduce their risk of early death by 7 percent, their risk of a cardiovascular disease death by 9 percent, and their risk of a cancer-related death by 5 percent. Not only that, but the more whole grains the participants ate, the lower their risk of death. The study participants who ate 3 servings of whole grains daily reduced their risk of dying from cancer by 14 percent, their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 25 percent, and their overall risk of death from any cause by 20 percent.
Previous studies had already linked consuming whole grains with a reduced risk of various chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. Whole grains, like oats, whole wheat, and brown rice, contain plenty of fiber along with nutrients such as vitamin B and minerals. When someone consumes whole grains, the fiber helps move waste through the digestive system and helps keep food in the stomach longer, giving people a feeling of fullness so they eat less calories. This can reduce the risk of obesity, and as dietary fiber helps lower cholesterol, it can lower the risk of stroke as well.
In a different study, Dr. David Hupin and other researchers in the Department of Clinical and Exercise Physiology at the University Hospital of Saint-Etienne in France found that even small amounts of exercise can help lower the risk of death. Dr. Hupin is presenting the findings at the European Society of Cardiology meeting June 14th. The researchers studied 1,011 people aged 65 in France starting in 2001 and following-up for twelve years. In addition, they used a meta-analysis to study an additional 122,417 international people aged 60, following up for an average of ten years.
The researchers looked at the amount of physical activity of each subject, measured by Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) minutes per week. This is the amount of calories burned per minute of physical activity, with one MET equal to energy spent simply sitting. Moderate activity may be between 3 and 5.9 MET with intense activity 6 or more MET. Every week, low physical activity may be 1-499, medium activity 500-999, and high activity greater than 1,000 MET.
Once the researchers analyzed the data, they found that compared to the inactive older adults, those with low physical activity had a 22 percent lower risk of death, those with medium activity had a 28 percent lower risk of death, and those with high activity levels had a 35 percent lower risk of death. This seems to show that even when older adults get moderate exercise, they can have a significant impact on their lifespan.
Doctors usually recommend 500 to 1,000 MET minutes of exercise every week to benefit health. However, the study indicates that even the equivalent of 15 minutes of brisk walking can significantly lower the risk of death.
The results of both studies are encouraging for those who wish to improve their health and longevity. While dramatically increasing their exercise levels may seem like too much effort, an extra 15 minutes of activity might seem a more achievable goal for older adults. Not only can exercise help control weight, but research suggests it can help everything from heart disease and type 2 diabetes to depression and dementia. As for whole grains, simply getting at least three servings per day may improve health for people of all ages. Currently, an estimated 3 percent of children and 8 percent of adults eat at least three servings of whole grains a day, which means there is plenty of room for improvement.