The findings, published in Microvascular Research, suggest that a combination of exercise and following the Mediterranean diet (MD) for just eight weeks leads to improved blood flow in cells in the inner lining of the blood vessels - called the endothelial cells – that can still be seen a full 12 months after completing participation in the intervention programme.
The UK-based researchers behind the study believe the long-term health benefits observed after such a short intervention could be due to molecular changes associated with the Mediterranean diet.
"Preserving a patient's endothelial function as they get older is thought to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, so these findings are very encouraging,” said lead researcher Dr Markos Klonizakis of Sheffield Hallam University.
“The original improvements from an 8-week exercise and MD intervention were still evident, particularly in the microcirculatory and cardiorespiratory assessments, 1 year after the initial study,” wrote the team. “This suggests that a brief intervention combining MD with exercise in this high-risk group promises long-term health benefits.”
The study focused on healthy people over the age of 50. Participants were originally assessed over an eight-week period. One group was encouraged to follow a Mediterranean style diet by eating more vegetables, fruit, olive oil, tree nuts and fresh oily fish, in addition to taking up a moderate exercise regime - while the other just took up exercise alone.
"Considering the scientific evidence already out there that a Mediterranean diet offers health benefits, it made sense to examine how such a diet, when combined with exercise, could affect the small veins of our body due to their important role in our overall well-being, in the longer-term,” said Klonizakis.
Indeed, the initial results confirmed that there were more health improvements in the Mediterranean diet group than the exercise only group alone.
However, even one year later these benefits were still evident - despite the lifestyle changes implemented during the study no longer being carefully followed.
"Even a medium-duration intervention with a Mediterranean diet and exercise regime can promise long-term health benefits, especially in people at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” commented co-researcher Geoff Middleton from the University iof Lincoln.
Source: Microvascular Research
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.mvr.2014.07.015
“Long-term effects of an exercise and Mediterranean diet intervention in the vascular function of an older, healthy population”
Authors: Markos Klonizakis, Ahmad Alkhatib, Geoff Middleton