It can be tempting to feel like it’s too late to get in shape.
Middle-aged adults who were never self-proclaimed “health nuts” from the start may feel like the time for major lifestyle changes has passed. However, new research from the American Health Association (AHA) suggests that this point in life might be the perfect time to create a healthy meal plan and pick up a new gym routine.
Using data from the Framingham Heart Study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the new study revealed that eating healthy and exercising regularly in your midlife may be significant for maintaining your heart health in your golden years. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now).
Specifically, the research found that adopting these two lifestyle habits midlife can lower your chances of metabolic syndrome, a group of harmful conditions that can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other serious heart conditions. The question is, what should you be eating if you want to protect your heart?
“I would recommend eating just a wide variety of fruits and vegetables,” Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RDN, AHA volunteer expert, and former chair of the AHA’s Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health, told Eat This, Not That! in an interview. “But, you know, [you] have to eat other things as well…whole grains, nuts, and seeds.”
Dr. Kris-Etherton also recommends focusing on including other plant-based foods into your diet like nut and seed butter varieties, such as almond butter and sunflower seed butter. Without a doubt, it’s much easier to follow a healthy plant-based diet when you’re cooking at home. If you’re dining at a restaurant, it can be a bit more challenging to find healthy foods on the menu that aren’t doused in salty seasonings and sugary sauces.
However, Kris-Etherton reassures that it’s possible. “A lot of restaurants now are featuring some of the ancient grains on their menus, and one, in particular, is quinoa,” she says. “And that would be a really good side dish or a main dish, along with lean protein foods and fruits and vegetables.”
Of course, diet is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s also key to get plenty of exercise and to keep your workouts varied.
“People need both aerobic exercise and strength training,” said Dr. Kris-Etherton. “And so people should exercise at least 150 minutes per week, and that should be of moderate physical activity, so get out there and walk. Then, don’t forget the strength training twice per week.”
She noted that while the association has not issued any guidelines regarding how long you should spend on strength training, it should be a key part of your exercise routine.
For more tips on what to eat to keep your heart healthy for as long as possible, be sure to check out These Are the Two Best Diets For Heart Health, According to Doctors.