Eating a diet that's based largely on Mediterranean principles can help to reduce a person's risk of frailty in old age, according to a new study.
Research carried out by scientists at University College London has proved that a healthy diet can have a significant impact on people's health in later life.
If their bodies are stronger, they are less likely to suffer a fall or fracture that could leave them hospitalised, disabled or needing round-the-clock care, which suggests that a Mediterranean-style diet could help to safeguard older individuals' quality of life.
The benefits of a Mediterranean diet
The study involved the analysis of four previous papers looking at the effects of a Mediterranean diet on people's health, which covered some 5,789 people in total and had been conducted in France, Spain, Italy and China.
From this research, they concluded that people who followed a largely Mediterranean diet were less than half as likely to develop frailty over a four-year period than those who didn't follow this way of healthy eating.
A diet inspired by the Mediterranean way of life also helped to improve people's muscle strength and energy levels, and made them more likely to maintain a healthy weight.
The findings - which the researchers said were "very consistent" - suggest that it's never too late to start following this style of diet, which implies that people could begin eating a more Mediterranean diet in later life and still benefit from it, potentially even reducing their risk of premature death.
A Mediterranean diet is defined as one that involves plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, red meat, nuts, olive oil, leafy greens like spinach, and whole grains. As it incorporates all food groups and plenty of nutrients, vitamins and omega-3, it's widely regarded as one of the healthiest diets of all.
Dr Gotaro Kojima, one of the study's lead authors, commented: "Our study supports the growing body of evidence on the potential health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, in our case for potentially helping older people to stay well as they age."
What else influences frailty?
What a person eats is not the only factor that can influence their frailty. The University College London study did not take into account factors such as age, gender, social background, how much exercise people did and whether or not they smoked or drank alcohol, but it's clear that diet can play a key part in reducing the risk of frailty.
Co-author of the research Dr Kate Walters stated: "We now need large studies that look at whether increasing how much you follow a Mediterranean diet will reduce your risk of becoming frail."
The research has been published in full in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.