Mediterranean diet and exercise protect older adults from disability

Mediterranean diet and exercise may prevent disability in hospitalized older adults.


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As the global population ages, the prevalence of disability and hospitalization-associated disability among older individuals has become a significant public health concern. Hospitalization-associated disability is the decline in functional abilities that often occurs during and after hospital stays in older adults.

The Mediterranean diet and physical activity have been associated with numerous health benefits. However, their combined effects on preventing hospitalization-associated disability in older people remain relatively unexplored. This study investigates the potential benefits of adopting a Mediterranean diet and regular physical activity in preventing hospitalization-associated disability in older individuals.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Healthy Aging, led by experts Mireia Urpi-Sarda and José Antonio Serra-Rexach, at University of Barcelona suggests that older adults following a Mediterranean diet while incorporating exercise and health education guidelines show improved overall condition during hospitalization.

Notably, the physical exercise program demonstrated more significant improvements in patients with poorer physical conditions. The study highlights the need for further research on the impact of dietary patterns in conjunction with exercise to prevent hospitalization-associated disability.

Hospitalization-associated disability affects older patients even after successful treatment, leading to higher costs, readmissions, and mortality. Physical exercise interventions during hospitalization have effectively prevented this functional decline.

Based on the AGECAR-PLUS project with 260 patients aged 75 or older at Gregorio Marañón University Hospital, the study evaluated 109 volunteers’ adherence to a Mediterranean diet, urinary polyphenol levels, functional status, and health parameters upon admission and discharge.

José Antonio Serra-Rexach says: “We observed that patients who underwent the physical exercise and health education intervention during hospitalization significantly increased their functional status at discharge, compared to their admission and patients who did not. However, to date, there was no evidence of the effect of a healthy diet on functional status in hospitalized older people”.

Professor Mireia Urpi-Sarda, from UB’s Biomarkers and Nutritional & Food Metabolomics Research Group, states that a healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet is linked to a reduced risk of physical decline in older people. The study evaluated the diet through a validated questionnaire and measured polyphenol levels in urine.

Researcher Alba Tor-Roca, from the Department of Nutrition, Food Sciences, and Gastronomy at UB, observed that individuals with low adherence to the Mediterranean diet during hospitalization showed more outstanding and clinically significant improvement in functional capacities with physical exercise intervention. The researchers suggest that adherence to the Mediterranean diet may indicate a better response to exercise interventions in older patients.

In conclusion, this study aims to shed light on the role of the Mediterranean diet and physical activity in preventing hospitalization-associated disability among older people. The findings can potentially inform public health policies and interventions to promote healthy lifestyles in the aging population, ultimately improving their quality of life and reducing the burden of disability associated with hospitalization.

Journal reference:

  1. Tor-Roca, A., Mayordomo-Cava, J., Andres-Lacueva, C. et al. Adherence to Mediterranean Diet and Response to an Exercise Program to Prevent Hospitalization-Associated Disability in Older Adults: A Secondary Analysis from a Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging. DOI: 10.1007/s12603-023-1929-6.


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