They're small, round and blue — yep, we're talking about blueberries. The plump, juicy berries aren't just tasty toppings on oatmeal and yogurt. They're also full of beneficial nutrients that can help you age well.
The average U.S. adult reaches the ripe age of 80, per the National Library of Medicine (NLM), so it's important to adopt a healthy lifestyle to lower your risk of diseases and health conditions that typically go up with age.
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This includes eating a nutritious diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and healthy fats, as is recommended in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Healthy eating can have a positive effect on longevity, that is, the duration and quality of your life as you age. And that's important, because even though human life expectancy has increased, healthspan (aka the years spent in good health) has not, according to an April 2021 review in Biogerontology.
Here, we take a deep dive into the health benefits of blueberries and why you may want to start eating them regularly to stay well over the years.
6 Benefits of Blueberries for Healthy Aging
1. They're Rich in Disease-Fighting Antioxidants
Blueberries are a well-known source of antioxidants. In fact, wild blueberries contain more antioxidants per serving than other fruits like strawberries, cranberries and plums, according to the USDA.
Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals, which can cause damage to cells. Through a process called oxidation or oxidative stress, free radicals can increase the risk of diseases like cancer and heart disease.
Blueberries are most abundant in a type of flavonoid antioxidant called anthocyanin, which are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, mortality and type 2 diabetes, as well as protection from age-related brain degeneration, according to a March 2020 review in Advances in Nutrition.
Arthritis is a chronic condition that involves joint pain and stiffness. It's especially common in the hips, hands and knees, and although anyone can get it, the risk increases with age.
Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder in the world and affects quality of life for many older adults, according to a February 2019 study in Nutrients.
This study was small and included only 63 people with osteoarthritis of the knee, but interestingly, the researchers found that people taking freeze-fried blueberry powder (which was equated to two one-cup servings of fresh blueberries) daily for 16 weeks reported improvements in pain, stiffness and difficulty to perform daily activities.
The antioxidants in blueberries make them a good fit for a diet catered to arthritis-related pain and inflammation, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
3. They Have Nutrients That Support Your Brain
Your brain function, or cognition, includes your ability to think, remember things and concentrate. The sharpness of your brain — aka how quickly you recall information — inevitably declines with age. Usually, this process starts off slowly as brain cells become damaged over time.
Examples of cognitive decline include misplacing your car keys or other belongings often, searching for the right words and taking longer to complete tasks, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
While these may initially seem like minor inconveniences, neurodegeneration can eventually lead to diseases like dementia and Parkinson's disease.
"Patterns of eating that include a wide variety of plants have been shown to slow or halt the development of age-related cognitive impairment and decline," says Maya Feller, RD, CDN, a Brooklyn-based nutritionist.
"Blueberries support brain health because they are a rich source of polyphenolic compounds that have been shown to have cognitive benefits."
The polyphenols in blueberries may be especially good for your brain, namely short- and long-term memory and spatial memory, according to a March 2020 review in Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
4. They Are a Good Source of Gut-Friendly Fiber
People should aim for 25 to 38 grams of fiber per day, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, but many people have a hard time meeting their goal.
Fiber is an essential nutrient for healthy digestion, and this is especially important for older adults, who are more likely to experience constipation. Fiber adds bulk to your stool and keeps food moving through your digestive tract. While age is a risk factor for constipation, so is a diet lacking in fiber.
A 1-cup serving of raw blueberries has 3.6 grams of dietary fiber, according to the USDA. That's a rather impressive 14 percent or so of your daily need for fiber, which may also help you manage cholesterol and blood sugar levels, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
5. They May Promote Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and older adults are at greater risk, according to the National Institute on Aging. Over many years, your heart changes — it doesn't beat as fast during physical activity or times of stress, and it may acquire more fatty deposits in the walls of your arteries.
Arteries may also become stiff and hard over time, which can lead to high blood pressure. Any of these changes can raise your risk of heart disease and other complications like stroke and heart attack.
"Heart health is a significant component in healthy aging," Feller says. "Blueberries support heart health in part because of their antioxidant capacity. Anthocyanins, the compound responsible for providing the blue or purple color of the berries, are widely recognized for their role in lowering heart disease risk."
It's true: Anthocyanin-rich foods like blueberries have been shown in several studies to lower the risk of heart disease, according to a December 2019 review in Food and Function. The fiber in blueberries also contributes to their benefits for your ticker.
6. They Have Vitamins That May Help Protect Your Eyes
Changes in your vision are normal as you age. It may become more difficult to see things up close, distinguish between similar colors and you might need more time to adjust to changes in light, according to the National Institute on Aging.
With age also comes a higher risk for eye diseases and conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, glaucoma and dry eyes. But there's evidence eating a diet rich in antioxidants can offer some protection.
Certain antioxidants have been shown to lower the risk of developing cataracts and chronic eye diseases, according to the American Optometric Association. Lutein and vitamin C, both of which are found in blueberries, are among those you want to have in your diet.
How to Eat More Blueberries
Blueberries are delicious all on their own, so you can snack on a fresh handful at any time. It's also easy to find frozen and powdered blueberries for year-round access.
A serving of fresh blueberries is 1 cup, which provides an ample amount of antioxidants and fiber. Some of the studies we mentioned, particularly those mentioning joint inflammation, reported benefits when people ate two servings per day.
"Adding blueberries to baked goods, cereal grains and preserves are all ways to incorporate them into your daily diet," Feller says. Here are some more clever ways to eat blueberries:
- National Library of Medicine: "Is longevity determined by genetics?"
- USDA: "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- USDA: “Blueberries and Health”
- Advances in Nutrition: "Recent Research on the Health Benefits of Blueberries and Their Anthocyanins"
- Biogerontology: "Aging and age-related diseases: from mechanisms to therapeutic strategies"
- Nutrients: "Blueberries Improve Pain, Gait Performance and Inflammation in Individuals with Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis"
- Cleveland Clinic: "10 Foods That Help Ease Your Arthritis Pain"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "How memory and thinking ability change with age"
- Brain, Behavior and Immunity: "The effect of blueberry interventions on cognitive performance and mood: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials"
- My Food Data: “Blueberries”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Easy Ways to Boost Fiber in Your Daily Diet”
- Cleveland Clinic: "The Health Benefits of Blueberries"
- National Institute on Aging: "Heart Health and Aging"
- Food and Function: “Blueberries and cardiovascular disease prevention”
- National Institute on Aging: "Aging and Your Eyes"
- American Optometric Association: “Diet and Nutrition”