"Little research has been done on how diet impacts physical function later in life. We study the connection between diet and many other aspects of health, but we don't know much about diet and mobility," said study senior author Francine Grodstein, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
"We wanted to look at diet patterns and try to learn how our overall diet impacts our physical function as we get older," she explained in a hospital news release.
Grodstein and her colleagues analyzed data from almost 55,000 women in the national Nurses' Health Study who had their physical function assessed every four years from 1992 to 2008. The participants had also completed questionnaires about their eating habits.
Those who ate healthier diets were less likely to develop mobility problems than those with less healthy diets. The researchers also found that high consumption of vegetables and fruits, moderate alcohol intake, and low consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fats and salt were each associated with a reduced risk of physical impairment.
Although the study wasn't designed to show cause and effect, specific foods most strongly linked with a lower risk of physical disability included oranges, orange juice, apples, pears, romaine or leaf lettuce, and walnuts.
The study appears in the July issue of the Journal of Nutrition.
"We think a lot about chronic diseases, cancer, heart disease, and tend not to think of physical function," said study first author Kaitlin Hagan, a postdoctoral fellow at Brigham and Women's. "Physical function is crucial as you age; it includes being able to get yourself dressed, walk around the block, and could impact your ability to live independently."More information
The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion outlines how to protect your health as you age.
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