The Mediterranean diet can slow down the aging process

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Population aging is now a rapidly evolving global phenomenon throughout the world. In the European Union, the number of people over 65 is expected to increase from 85 million in 2008, to 151 million in 2060. Worldwide, the estimated number of people over 65 will increase from 461 million in 2004, to 2 billion by 2050. This will have important consequences on the planning and provision of healthcare and social assistance services.

A higher life expectancy leads us to reconsider not only the health of the elderly, but what implications will age have in the life of each one of us. In other words, the ability to dedicate ourselves to our activities will not be different from that of a younger person. But if the years of old age are marked by the loss of health, the implications for individuals and for society are negative. Especially in high-income countries, it’s common for people to spend old age in innovative ways, such as to start a new career, new studies or to completely dedicate themselves to a passion neglected during the work years. However, the extent of these new opportunities arising from these long years of life depends, for everyone, on maintaining their good health.

Healthy behaviours in middle age lead to so-called “healthy and successful” aging, which largely means the absence of serious chronic illness or a significant decrease in physical and cognitive functions or mental health. Healthy behaviours include a balanced diet (with adequate caloric restriction) and physical activity, without smoking and with moderate alcohol consumption.

A healthy eating pattern, such as the Mediterranean Diet (MD), has been associated with a lower incidence of chronic diseases and a lower physical impairment in old age. In addition, it is well known that a healthy diet is associated with a lower cardiovascular risk and a lower risk of premature death.

Most determinants of life are related to lifestyle. Currently, there is much evidence that the combination of caloric restriction and physical activity protects against multiple molecular and cellular processes that underlie the functional decline associated with aging. In addition, they increase the body’s resistance to stress, thus maintaining its physiological function.

The “Western” food model, which is characterized by a high intake of fried and sweet foods, processed foods and red meat, refined cereals and high-fat dairy products, is associated with a high prevalence of diseases and aging.

The EPIC study examined the association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet model and the life expectancy of 74,607 people, from nine European countries. These studies provided extremely compelling evidence regarding the strong link between the Mediterranean diet and the prevention of unhealthy aging.

A healthy lifestyle in middle age, including a proper diet or even a slight reduction in caloric intake, may lead to a lower risk or even the absence of serious chronic diseases and to the decline of cognitive or physical functions in old age. This is the consequence of preserving the immune system and the mitochondrial activity. By switching to the Mediterranean diet, the “aging” index decreases by an average of 0.74/year. In other words, for every 12 months lived, the index of aging is only 9 months.

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