Mediterranean diet and exercise linked with lower death rate

In collaboration with the Press Association

New research has added to the growing body of evidence that deaths from cancer are less common amongst people who eat a Mediterranean diet and exercise regularly.

Two studies published in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at data contained in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study, which started collecting information on AARP members in 1995.

The first study, led by Dr Panagiota Mitrou from the University of Cambridge, looked at the effect of the Mediterranean diet - which mostly consists of vegetables, legumes, fruit, fish and whole grains - on risk of death during the study period, in 380,296 participants.

They found that people who tended to eat foods characteristic of the Mediterranean diet were less likely to die of any cause during a five-year follow-up period.

They were also less likely to die from cancer or heart disease.

The researchers noted that the Mediterranean diet contains important dietary constituents such as fibre and a low omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio.

They concluded: "In this large, prospective US study, conformity with the Mediterranean dietary pattern was associated with lower mortality."

Professor Tim Key, of Cancer Research UK, said: "The links between diet and cancer risk are complex.

"We've known for a while that certain elements of the Mediterranean diet may be beneficial to health. This study confirms that a diet high in vegetables and fruit and low in red and processed meats is associated with a moderate reduction in the overall risk for dying from cancer.

"More research is needed to determine whether certain aspects of this type of diet have specific effects on particular types of cancer."

Meanwhile, the second study, which was carried out by Dr Michael Leitzmann of the US National Cancer Institute, looked at the exercise patterns of 252,925 participants.

People who did moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes nearly every day were 27 per cent less likely to die during the period studied, while those who exercised vigorously for at least 20 minutes three times per week were 32 per cent less likely to die.

The researchers wrote: "We conclude that following physical activity recommendations is associated with lower risk of death.

"In addition, our findings suggest that engaging in any physical activity by those who are currently sedentary represents an important opportunity to decrease the risk of mortality."

Liz Baker, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "We recommend maintaining a healthy bodyweight, eating sensibly and taking regular exercise as a key to a healthy life, as this can help reduce the risk of several types of cancer, as well as many other diseases.

"The current recommended minimum level is about 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week. This study shows exercising less than this can still provide some benefit, and it will be interesting to see if this finding is replicated in other studies."