Revealed: The diet that can help over 60s feel less anxious and stressed

May 21, 2024
Researchers explained that "through a relatively easy lifestyle change, people can markedly improve their stress and anxiety levels". Source: Getty Images.

There is no shortage of things that cause stress these days, whether it’s the rising cost of living or concerns about how the grandkids are doing, there is always something weighing on our minds.

While meditation or a relaxing walk on the beach may help some people reduce stress, others find it much harder to quiet their minds.

Fortunately, researchers have discovered that our diet can alleviate these problems. The Mediterranean diet, in particular, has been found to help those over 60 feel less stressed and reduce anxiety.

Researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of South Australia assessed the impact of a Mediterranean diet on mental health among 294 older Australians over 60, finding that consuming more nuts, fruit and legumes and fewer sugary drinks could reduce the severity of anxiety and stress.

University of the Sunshine Coast academic and accredited practising dietitian Dr Anthony Villani explained that these foods were key markers in the study.

“There is already good evidence that a Med diet is associated with lower depressive symptoms in younger and middle-aged people, but we wanted to examine the potential mental health benefits for older people,” he said.

Researchers provided a self-administered online questionnaire to participants in order to assess the potential association between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and severity of symptoms related to depression, anxiety and stress.

“Overall, the research found a lower intensity of anxiety symptoms in people who followed a Mediterranean style diet, which is high in fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and of course olive oil,” Dr Villani said.

“When we examined individual food groups within the diet, the strongest impacts on easing anxiety and stress were related to a high intake of legumes and nuts and a low intake of sugar-sweetened beverages – less than one can of soft drink a week.

“Nuts and legumes are rich in fibre, healthy fats and antioxidants which are likely to help produce good bacteria in the gut, lower inflammation and in turn have a favourable effect on brain health.

“Higher vegetable intake was also associated with lower symptoms of depression, although we were surprised the overall findings were not stronger for alleviating depression and this warrants further study.”

Leading dietitian and University of South Australia researcher Dr Evangeline Mantzioris said the findings indicate that “through a relatively easy lifestyle change, people can markedly improve their stress and anxiety levels”.

“Globally, we’re facing an unprecedented ageing population, yet despite this longevity, many people continue to struggle with their health and wellbeing,” Dr Mantzioris said.

“Lifestyle behaviours, including diet quality, are gaining more attention as modifiable risk factors for poor mental health, with the Mediterranean diet endorsed for reducing chronic disease risk and supporting healthy ageing.

“In this study we showed that when older people adhered to a Mediterranean diet, their symptoms of stress and anxiety declined – and that this occurred regardless of their age, gender, BMI or how much sleep and exercise they were getting.

“It’s a big tick for the Mediterranean diet – through a relatively easy lifestyle change, people can markedly improve their stress and anxiety levels – who wouldn’t want to give it a go.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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