Benefits Of Mediterranean Diet

A new study from Europe in this morning's Journal of the American Medical Association shows just how powerful the effect of following healthy lifestyle advice can be over the years, reports The Early Show's Dr. Emily Senay.

Researchers looked at people aged 70 to 90 for more than a decade, and found those who adhered to a healthy low-fat Mediterranean-style diet lowered their risk of death by 23 percent. People who drank alcohol moderately lowered their risk by 22 percent. Physical activity lowered the risk by 37 percent. Nonsmoking lowered the death risk by 22 percent. And people who had all four of these healthy lifestyle factors lowered their risk of death from any cause by 65 percent.

It's powerful proof that a healthy lifestyle can work wonders.

The Mediterranean diet comes from countries like Italy and Greece. It's high in foods that provide health benefits like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish and olive oil.

It also includes low amounts of meat, dairy and saturated fats, and moderate alcohol consumption. Another new study showed that the Mediterranean diet reduced metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that puts people at a much higher risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes later in life like obesity, fat buildup in the arteries, high blood pressure, and glucose or blood sugar intolerance.

People on the Mediterranean diet had significant decreases in metabolic syndrome symptoms and risk factors and improvements in good cholesterol compared to those who weren't on the diet. There was also evidence that the healthier eaters suffered less from the inflammation of cells that may contribute to the risk of disease.

Two additional studies in the journal reinforce the importance of exercise in the health equation, even low-intensity exercise like walking. Physical activity was associated with better mental functioning in older women. Women aged 70 and older who participated in higher levels of physical activity scored better on cognitive performance tests and showed less cognitive decline than women who were less active.

A different study showed that even walking is associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer's in older men. Older men who walked the least had nearly twice the risk for diseases like Alzheimer's, compared to men who walked the most. This is the first time that a low-intensity exercise has been proven to keep the mind sharp.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.