The surest way to fend off ‘old-age’ frailty

You’ve seen it happen to more than a few older adults in your lifetime…

They’re healthy, fit and independent one day. Then suddenly they seem smaller and weaker, like they’re disappearing before your eyes.

They start walking slowly and doing less. They fall frequently, and maybe they even end up in the hospital with a fractured wrist or broken hip.

It’s hard to watch an older person decline like this. But the truth is, they’ve fallen victim to an age-related condition that we’re all vulnerable to — frailty.

Frailty isn’t a disease, per se. It’s a common phenomenon that accompanies aging. People who become frail typically start losing weight unintentionally, have low energy levels, walk slowly, have low grip strength and become prone to falls. They also have a higher risk for dementia and an early death.

The problem with frailty is that it steals your independence. Suddenly, your family doesn’t want to leave you alone. They’re afraid to let you drive or even go for a walk on your own. At some point you may even be forced to give up your home.

That’s not the life most of us envision for ourselves in our later years. We want to enjoy ourselves — travel, be independent, play with our grandchildren, spend time outdoors.

The good news is, not everyone becomes frail as they get older (or at least not until they’re really, really old). So what are those strong seniors doing to keep frailty from sacking their independence prematurely?

Well, recent research revealed one thing these seniors are doing to keep frailty away — eating the right foods.

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The anti-aging diet that keeps you independent

A recent study from researchers at University College London found that following a Mediterranean diet could be the key to fighting frailty as you get older.

Researchers looked at data from four existing studies, which included diet and health records from 5,789 people who were 60 or older. They found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet slashed their risk of frailty by more than 50 percent over a four year period.

“Nutrition is thought to play a crucial role in developing frailty, and we found that the Mediterranean diet may help older individuals maintain muscle strength, activity, weight, and energy levels,” said study author Dr. Kate Walters from UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology & Health.

That means people who eat a Mediterranean diet are substantially less likely to get weak, slow and dependent than people eating other ways. That also means they’re less likely to end up in a hospital or nursing home.

Is this the reason that residents of blue zones, like Ikaria, Greece are living to 100? It’s certainly part of it…

Getting started on a Mediterranean diet

If you’re still on the fence about going Mediterranean, you should know that the Mediterranean diet has a bunch of other benefits besides its ability to fight frailty. It also lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes and cancer. So why not make the switch now?

I’m sure you’ve heard about the Mediterranean diet a million times by now. But if you’re still not clear about what foods are fair game (and which aren’t) when you go Mediterranean, here’s a quick rundown of how to get started:

  • Eat lots of vegetables and fruit. Produce should make up the majority of your diet. Shoot for five to ten servings of fruits and veggies per day. A serving is about a half cup cooked or a whole cup raw.
  • Pick your animal protein carefully. The Mediterranean diet focuses on lean protein, like fish and poultry. Although, red meat is allowed in moderation. You can also eat eggs.
  • Get plenty of plant-based protein. Nuts, seeds and legumes are all an important part of a Mediterranean diet.
  • Only go for whole grains. You’ll have to ditch refined grains in favor of whole grains if you want to reap the benefits of a Mediterranean diet.
  • Heap on the healthy fats. Fatty foods like olive oil, avocado, walnuts and almonds play a huge part in the Mediterranean diets health benefits, so eat a lot of them. And guess what? A 7-year study says eat fat to lose weight.
  • Do dairy in moderation. Some dairy is allowed on the Mediterranean diet. But choose healthier options like probiotic-rich yogurt, cottage cheese (here are 3 big benefits of this old school superfood) or kefir.
  • Have an occasional drink. A lot of research ties drinking to health problems, like cancer. But traditionally, the Mediterranean diet includes a dash of alcohol. A glass of red wine with dinner should do the trick without harming your health.

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  1. L. Xue. “The Frailty Syndrome: Definition and Natural History.” — Clinics in Geriatric Medicine. 2011 Feb; 27(1): 1–15.
  2. Mediterranean diet could protect older adults from becoming frail — MedicalXpress. Retrieved January 12, 2017.
  3. Kojima, et al. “Adherence to Mediterranean Diet Reduces Incident Frailty Risk: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” — The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Jan. 2018.
  4. 10 Things to Know About the Mediterranean Diet — Health. Retrieved January 12, 2017.
  5. No Need to Limit Healthy Fats With the Mediterranean Diet, New Study Says — Health. Retrieved January 12, 2017.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and