For women, healthy diets may help with mobility when aging



Boston, MA – In a large study conducted by at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), researchers found an association between women who maintain a healthy diet and a reduction in the risk of developing impaired physical function as they age.

The findings are published online and will appear in the July issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

“Little research has been done on how diet impacts physical function later in life. We study the connection between diet and many other aspects of health, but we don’t know much about diet and mobility, ” says Francine Grodstein, ScD, senior author of the study and a researcher in the Channing Division of Network Medicine at BWH. “We wanted to look at diet patterns and try to learn how our overall diet impacts our physicial function as we get older. ”

Researchers examined the association between the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, a measure of diet quality, with reports of impairment in physical function among 54,762 women involved in the Nurses’ Health Study. Physical function was measured by a commonly used standard instrument every four years from 1992 to 2008 and diet was measured by food frequency questionnaires, which were administered approximately every four years beginning in 1980.

The data indicate that women who maintained a healthier diet were less likely to develop physical impairments compared to women whose diets were not as healthy. They also found a higher intake of vegetables and fruits, a lower intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, trans-fats, and sodium, and a moderate alcohol intake, were each significantly associated with reduced rates of physical impairment. Among individual foods, the strongest relations were found for increased intakes of oranges, orange juice, apples and pears, romaine or leaf lettuce, and walnuts. However, researchers noted specific foods generally had weaker associations than the overall score, which indicates that overall diet quality is more important than individual foods.

“We think a lot about chronic diseases, cancer, heart disease, and tend not to think of physical function. Physical function is crucial as you age; it includes being able to get yourself dressed, walk around the block, and could impact your ability to live independently,” says Kaitlin Hagan, ScD, MPH, first author and a postdoctoral fellow at BWH.

Future research is needed to better understand dietary and lifestyle factors that influence physical function.


This study was supported by NIH grants (P01 CA87969 and UM1 CA186107), by an unrestricted award from the California Walnut Commission, and by training grant from the NIH (T32 AR055885).

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1 Comment
  1. Della Robinson-Melton says

    I apologize for the lengthy reply below which just about results into a novel. I wrote my comments and feelings using my mobile phone. I cannot copy this nor really don’t know how.

    I kindly ask that you return a copy of my reply to my email: [email protected]
    Thank you.


    The research study is logical. Poor diet lends to obesity which the added weight destroys the joints. The lack of mobility is also due to the pain and swelling that restricts movement. It is a vicious cycle.

    I was there. Obese, depressed, in both physical and emotional pain. My chronic illness was Fibromyalgia. It was very painful to move and the more you move the deeper than pain. The more you live in a fog or a bubble. Years of endless pain that is life changing for your health as well as the relationship with family.

    I read an article stating that increased movement would relieve the pain. My first thought and reaction was anger. How in the hell is person supposed to move within so much pain that will create even more pain. So I ignored the article.

    Then the Internet came along and my grown daughter researched and printed page after page of information. There is was again, amidst all those papers, the article I had disregarded a few years earlier. I poured through all of my daughter’s research and page after page were mentions and advice of movement.

    Thank goodness I had not become grossly obese. I was in constant pain. My joints were swollen and hurt. I had othroscopic knee surgery in the past.

    The article nagged at me for months. My daughter continually asked, “Mom, have you read the articles I gave you”?

    Again, out of anger and trying to prove a point about pain and mobility, I shoved my swollen my feet into my shoes and headed to the front door. I stayed in my pajamas and didn’t even put a coat on, thinking “this won’t take long”. My husband was at work, so there would be no witness to this failure.

    I hobbled out the front door and down two steps onto the patio. It only measured about 10 X 10 but looked the lenghth of a football field. I baby-stepped toward the furthest corner and while panting, admired the yard next door and gazed above me the underside of the canopy of my (several hundred years old) Live Oak tree. I took a deep breath for the return journey and headed to the other side of the patio and again baby-stepped my way back toward the front steps. It is ONLY two steps up, but certainly painful for my knees. I did make back into the front door. I shuffled to the bedroom, took off my shoes and flopped back into bed.

    Yes, I was hurting, out of breath and exhausted. As I lay there I pondered what I had done. I still hurt and didn’t feel any better. The Fibromyalgia is still there. I kept the patio journey to myself.

    I stayed off the patio the following day just because I KNEW I’d have difficulty navigating those 2 front steps.

    The following days left me feeling that I had nothing to lose. I stepped OFF the patio and felt the bark of my sturdy Live Oak. Lol….and just like shampoo directions…rinse and repeat. I took an extra step each time I went for my “adventure”. I didn’t let my family know until I was ready (about a month later) I’d have felt silly stating, “I walked on the patio today”.

    About 2 months later, I walked across the street to visit my neighbor and had to walk up her 5 steps to get onto her porch. It was difficult and my friend held me steady as I shuffled to sit in the wicker rocker. During our chat and laughter I regained my breath. An hour or so later, she helped me down the stairs and my husband walked next yo me and held the door open for me. I felt very proud and there is no shame in allowing others to help you succeed.

    One day I overshot my ability and neglected to save enough energy to get back to my house. I had walked about 6 houses down or quiet little street and I had to call my husband to bring the golf cart to come get me. We both laughed at the sight of me, as I was clinging to the stop sign like a drunk. I paced myself a bit better after that incident. I recalled the story of “The Spoon Theory” and realized I used my last spoon at the stop sign. I began to notice the symptoms of my Fibro to lessen.

    About 6 moths later I had progressed to making a right at the stop sign and walking past two houses to get across the busier road to the oceanfront beach access parking lot. In my excitement, I walked the handicapped ramp to the commonly referred to “gossip bench”, a rectangular roofed deck with benches along all 4 sides. This elevated platform deck raises you above the sand dunes to view the crashing waves. Inclement weather is the best time for ocean observation but less than ideal for a slow walker.

    A year later I was walking further an my pace that of a normal person who enjoys a good stroll. I began to stop meds that were for other ailments that are associated with Fibro. Interstitial Cystitis and sleeping pills. The Chronic fatigue is still there, but I am exhausted when I lay down down at night and sleep pretty soundly.

    In hindsight, my mockery of the original article is silly but I am grateful to my daughter for encouraging me and nagging me. Strength comes from within and anger is a motivator to prove your point, however right or wrong the outcome.

    My life has changed dramatically. In a nutshell, my car was totaled and I suffered through deep PTSD after a car accident in which the man who caused our accident, died at the scene. I became less active. After recovering from my physical injuries, my husband drove me everywhere. I had no car and was so frightened to drive and just as debilitating is riding in a vehicle. I clung to the door and arm rest while pressing my imaginary brakes into the passenger floorboard. He drove me back and forth to my Dr. apointments, as well as back and forth to work.

    A year later, I discovered the heartbreaking betrayal of my spouse and his adultery with our best friend’s wife. My PTSD hole of depression deepened when I filed for divorce from the man I loved the most in this world, after 34 years of marriage. (The hurt is even more intensely painful when you know, and have been friends with the adulteress who had deceitful sex with my husband). Our dog was bewildered and stood at the front door because it time for my husband to walk through the door. He was pitiful and paced the house looking for him. I had to force myself to learn to drive again and was now using my Dad’s pick up truck since my vehicle was totaled. My fingerprints are still embedded in his steering wheel. You wonder just how much how pain a heart and body can withstand.

    I got my answer 2 weeks after filing for the divorce, in the midst of wrenching heartache and bewilderment, my doctor said, “I’m sorry, your mammogram reveals Stage 2b breast cancer”. You don’t hear anything else the doctor had to say and leave walking like a zombie. Our daughter came from out of state and took our dog back home with her. I didn’t have the energy to walk him as we once did. The man I loved for 35 years is not there for me to hear, “honey, we’ll get through this”. I’ve never felt so isolated in all my life as I began biopsies, chemo, driving 60-mile round trip for 6 weeks of radiation, wishing my husband was there to hear what my doctors had to say, wishing he was there to drive me, ridding the house of his personal items, while dealing with a private investigator, divorce attorney, my baldness, the uncomfortable wig, court proceedings, all while STILL maintaining being employed.

    My body ached, my Fibromyalgia had returned I think due to the countless days of overwhelming stress. I couldn’t rest and stay in bed (no matter how much I wanted to just pull the covers up over my head and disappear). There was always somewhere to be, something to do and I was always painfully on the move. I had to stay alert. My hair was beginning to grow back as our divorce proceedings date neared. My marriage came to a court-ruled Judges’ decision, with the slam of a gavel that it was over, done, kaput. Just like that, 35 years gone, poof and destroyed by others’ adulterous choice to impact my world for the rest of my life. The law granted them a clean slate and a “do over” as I was left picking up the pieces and sweeping up the residue of my former existence. A life of mutual love, growth and togetherness since the age of 18 and now, single and 52 years old on a journey to become a breast cancer survivor. That journey was much easier to stomach than the betrayal.

    I managed to put one foot in front of the other, still carrying my very heavy heart, and at times forgetting, but asking out loud, “honey, where’s the phillips head screwdriver”? I had been a difficult journey that has lasted too long.

    I slowly began walking more and walking faster. Maybe if I walked fast enough, I could walk right out of this hurtful life. I did begin to walk faster and farther. I went online and started a power-walking group and to my amazement, soon had 80+ people who also wanted to walk fast. I enjoyed their company and we walked the trails suggested and outside of my area.

    I even took that month’s alimony and grabbed a flight to visit our daughter. My dog was so happy to see me he almost knocked me over and followed me from room to room. My daughter and son-in-law took to me some of their favorite trails. Over the entire week I hung in there and walked an incredible 25 miles that week. For the first time in my life, I found myself in a pair of chest waders, standing in the middle of a fast stream, fly fishing for trout under the instruction of my river guide. It was something I’d wanted to do. I was so proud of myself, yet sad my husband wasn’t there to share a moment we both dreamt of.

    This happens over and over with greater frequency. It is very hard to move forward when 35 years of memories keep popping up. A tv commercial. A song, an old movie we watched together. I couldn’t bear any more grief than I’ve already experienced if my husband had passed away instead of divorcing. The motors would be pleasant and there would be none of the hurt.

    Life has not been kind and at times I wonder who I’ve pissed off. My breast cancer had returned with a vengeance and a different primary cancer than before. This has been a more difficult journey than he last. I have been out of work on unpaid medical leave since March 3rd and not expected to return before the end of August. I have Triple Negative breast cancer. I’ve finished chemo but unable to receive radiation again because my cancer has returned to the same previously radiated breast which cannot be radiated again in my lifetime. I underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery in early March. I’ve had so many setbacks with infection, total loss of one of my reconstructed breasts, antibiotic i.v.’s, an added wound care specialist, and all the emotions entangled together.

    I am sngry with my husband over our divorce. He hardly speaks to our daughter, in my opinion from the guilt and shame if what we did and the hurt it brought to her mother. Now she is burdened at holidays to visit 4 places instead of 2. My family and his family. You don’t just divorce a person, it also impacts the numerous relatives. I found out quickly blood is thicker than water.

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