Getting our “steps in” is the ultimate fitness goal, with so many people investing in fitness watches and pedometers. Now while it’s important to stay active and maintain your step count, a new study has suggested that adopting the right eating pattern, i.e., the Mediterranean diet, can be as effective as walking an extra 4,000 steps daily.
The Mediterranean Diet vs. Daily Steps
The Mediterranean diet is a popular style of eating that is considered one of the healthiest diets in the world. Studies have linked it to improved longevity and a reduced risk of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and dementia. Blue Zones – five areas across the globe free of disease and inhabited by people living healthy to 100 and over – follow a type of diet that shares similar proponents with the Mediterranean diet.
In a recent study, Michael Mi, MD, a cardiologist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, set out to determine if a healthy diet may have the same effect on certain health factors that are impacted by physical activity, such as getting enough steps in.
Alongside his team of researchers, Dr. Mi examined data from 2, 380 people, 54% of whom were women, with an average age of 54. The participants had enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study – a multigenerational database of individuals who signed up to share information for health research.
Participants completed a fitness test and a Harvard food questionnaire that looked at their eating habits for a year. Per the questionnaire, higher scores indicated a diet that focused on fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish, and healthy fats. The diet also limited red meat and alcohol. These factors form the basis of the Mediterranean diet.
Mediterranean diet = 4,000 extra steps
“This study provides some of the strongest and most rigorous data thus far to support the connection that better diets may lead to higher fitness.
Our metabolite data suggests that eating healthily is associated with better metabolic health, which could be one possible way that it leads to improved fitness and ability to exercise.” – Dr. Michael Mi, study author.
According to the study’s findings, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, after accounting for age, sex, and other factors, a healthy diet was associated with better physical fitness. The association was more pronounced in those under 54 years of age compared to older adults.
“The improvement in fitness we observed in participants with better diets was similar to the effect of taking 4,000 more steps each day.”
Improving your diet
While Dr. Mi and his team do acknowledge that the study was an observational study. As such, they cannot conclude that eating well will lead to improved better fitness. However, this doesn’t negate the benefits that a healthy diet can bring.
“There are already many compelling health reasons to consume a high-quality diet, and we provide yet another one with its association with fitness. A Mediterranean-style diet with fresh, whole foods and minimal processed foods, red meat, and alcohol is a great place to start.”
Vanessa Ascencao, a nutritional consultant, echoes these sentiments, adding that eating a healthy diet is a great way to protect and improve your health, especially with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer being among the top causes of death worldwide,
“Eat fresh whole foods as close to nature as possible such as fruits, vegetables, oily fish, and healthy fats. Prepare meals from scratch and increase intake of beans, legumes, brown rice, oats, and lentils which are affordable sources of protein, and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals,” said Ascencao.
Ascencao adds that you should also reduce your intake of red meat, processed food, and alcohol, and avoid smoking.
Just keep walking
Now, while the study focuses on eating habits, that doesn’t mean you should cut back on your step count. Walking is an effective and easy way to stay active, and physical activity delivers its own array of benefits,
“Walking regularly throughout the day, especially after each meal, can help reduce blood pressure and blood sugar levels, improve muscle development, and elevate mood,” concludes Ascencao.
Want to know more?
As mentioned, a plant-based diet boasts plenty of benefits. One recent study suggested that a Mediterranean keto diet may reduce one’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Mi., M. (2023). Association of healthy dietary patterns and cardiorespiratory fitness in the community, European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 2023;, zwad113, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurjpc/zwad113