New research suggests that middle-aged women who follow a Mediterranean diet or similar may increase their lifespan and avoid physical or cognitive impairments and chronic illnesses in older age. This is according to study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The Mediterranean diet follows the eating habits of people living in Crete, many parts of Greece and Southern Italy.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the diet mainly consists of high amounts of plant foods, beans, nuts, cereals and seeds, fish and poultry, and olive oil as the main source of dietary fat.

Previous research has shown this diet to present many health benefits. Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that the Mediterranean diet may reduce genetic stroke risk, while other research has shown it may improve memory and thinking abilities.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health say that although the diet has been linked to many health benefits in older adults, the role of the diet in overall healthy aging has been “inadequately studied.”

To determine how the Mediterranean diet affects aging, the researchers analyzed 10,670 women using data from the Nurses’ Health Study. The women conducted a dietary questionnaire between 1984 and 1986. At the point of the questionnaire, all women were in their late 50s or early 60s.

The questionnaires asked each participant how often on average they consumed a standard portion of certain foods. Approximately 15 years later, the same women were asked to carry out a health and lifestyle questionnaire.

The results revealed that women who followed a Mediterranean diet, or a similar diet, had a 40% better chance of living past the age of 70, compared with those who did not follow the Mediterranean diet.

These “healthy agers” were also found to be free from 11 chronic diseases measured in the study, including kidney failure, cancer (excluding nonmelanoma skin cancer), type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

Furthermore, they showed no physical disabilities, no signs of cognitive impairment and no signs of mental health problems.

Overall, the healthy agers consumed higher amounts of plant foods, whole grains, and fish or long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. They also consumed less red and processed meat, and they drank less alcohol.

The researchers note that these findings may encourage people to follow a healthy diet in order to increase their lifespan and general health. They say:

We found that greater quality of diet at midlife was strongly associated with increased odds of good health and well-being among individuals surviving to older ages.

These data may have an especially important role in promoting a healthy diet. Maintaining physical, cognitive, and mental health with aging may provide a more powerful incentive for dietary change than simply prolonging life or avoiding any single chronic disease.”

Medical News Today recently reported on research stating that the aging process may be reversed with positive lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthy diet and moderate exercise.