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Reduced calorie diet key to a young heart

June 7, 2012

Following a healthy lifestyle may help seniors look younger, but it could also be doing a lot of good in places they can't see. Recent research from the Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis found older adults who have a lower-calorie diet have the heart health of someone 20 years younger.

The study looked at what could impact changes in the heart as a person gets older. Scientists found that everything from a heart's ability to adapt to physical activity, handle stress and pump blood can be improved if people limit their caloric intake. The subjects who benefited the most followed a restricted-calorie diet for about seven years.

"This is really striking because in studying changes in heart rate variability, we are looking at a measurement that tells us a lot about the way the autonomic nervous system affects the heart," said Luigi Fontana, the study's senior author.

Heart rate variability, which tends to decline with age, is one of the biggest indicators of cardiovascular death. The research team discovered people who had lower-calorie diets had both a lower heart rate and higher heart rate variability.

Finding ways to maintain heart health is one of the most important aspects of healthy aging. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women.

Aside from how many calories a person eats, what they eat can have a big impact on their cardiovascular well-being. According to WebMD, foods such as walnuts and almonds are especially good choices because they contain heart-healthy compounds such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and calcium.