A healthy diet can be the physical equivalent of taking 4,000 extra steps per day for middle-aged adults.
That’s according to a new study published this week in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).
“This study provides some of the strongest and most rigorous data thus far to support the connection that better diets maylead to higher fitness,” said Dr. Michael Mi, a study author and cardiologist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, in a statement. “The improvement in fitness we observed in participants with better diets was similar to the effect of taking 4,000 more steps each day.”
The researchers pointed out cardiorespiratory fitness reflects the body’s ability to provide and use oxygen for exercise.
It also integrates the health of multiple organ systems, such as the heart, lungs, blood vessels and muscles.
The researchers said these are a “powerful predictors of longevity and health.”
They also said even with people who exercise the same amount, there are still differences in fitness, suggesting that additional factors like diet contribute.
The study looked at the link between a healthy Mediterranean diet and physical fitness in community-dwelling adults.
Researchers studied 2,380 people in the Framingham Heart Study. The average age was 54 and 54% of the participants were women.
Participants did a maximum effort cardiopulmonary exercise test on a cycle ergometer to measure peak VO2 (the maximum rate of oxygen someone uses during exercise).
They also completed the Harvard semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire, which quantified intake during the last year of 126 dietary items ranging from never or less than once per month to ≥6 servings/day. Dietary quality was assessed by the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI; 0 to 110) and Mediterranean-style Diet Score (MDS; 0 to 25), which are both associated with good heart health.
The researchers also quantified the fasting blood concentrations of 201 metabolites.
Higher scores indicated a better-quality diet including fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish and healthy fats, and limited red meat and alcohol.