Healthy diet linked to better cardiovascular fitness

Healthy diet linked to better cardiovascular fitness

photo of a man holding an apple while on a hike in the woods

A heart-healthy diet that focuses on plant-based foods is closely tied to improved physical fitness, a new study finds.

The study included 2,380 middle-aged people in the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term, multigenerational study that seeks to uncover the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease. All participants underwent a cardiopulmonary exercise test, the gold standard for assessing fitness. They also completed questionnaires to assess the quality of their diet, noting how often they consumed 126 foods and drinks during the previous year. Higher-quality diets emphasized vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish, and healthy fats, and limited red meat and alcohol.

Researchers adjusted for possible confounding factors that might affect the diet-fitness relationship, including how many calories the participants consumed, their body mass index, and their routine physical activity levels. They found that healthy dietary habits were strongly and positively linked with fitness. The improvement in fitness seen among those with the healthiest diets was similar to the effect of an additional 4,000 steps per day, say the authors. Their study was published May 15, 2023, in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

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