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Gallup poll: Exercise trumps diet for healthy aging

June 18, 2012

Eating right is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors, but according to a recent Gallup study, something has it beat. Researchers found exercise trumps diet when it comes to healthy aging.

The study looked at how seniors view their own health. It analyzed their habits including everything from how frequently they visited the dentist to whether they smoked and what they ate. While there were some obvious correlations, it was exercise that stood out above the rest. Around 51 percent of respondents who exercised three or more times a week said they were in "excellent" or "very good" health. For those who exercised two or fewer times, the number dropped to 34 percent.

"While good health habits alone cannot stave off the effects of aging, those who do practice good health habits give themselves an edge in old age," the researchers wrote. "In particular, seniors who exercise frequently, maintain a healthy weight and visit the dentist are much more likely to say they are in excellent or very good health."

The study also revealed some other interesting findings, chiefly that healthy dieting seems to increase with age. Researchers found that only about 54 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 said they ate a healthy meal yesterday, but for people between 70 and 74, the number reached about 83 percent.

As the importance of exercise late in life becomes more widely recognized, seniors are staying more active than ever before. As a result, retirement communities and towns across the country have been changing to meet the demands of today's older adults. And according to U.S. News and World Report, their requests are much more than just a treadmill and some weights.

"We talked to seniors and we knew that when we constructed the fitness space, it had to be a lot more than [just a gym]," industry insider John Darigan told the publication. "We needed it to adapt to everything from tai chi to ballroom dancing, line dancing or yoga."

Older adults do not have to get that much exercise to enjoy the benefits of physical activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults over 65 need about 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week.