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Want to live a long time? Choose your genes well

August 03, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • The key to living longer may have less to do with lifestyle and more to do with genetics
The key to living longer may have less to do with lifestyle and more to do with… (Stephen Osman / Los Angeles…)

The secret to a very long life may have nothing to do with what you eat, how much exercise you get, or whether you smoke or drink. It may be because you got lucky with your gene pool, a study suggests.

Researchers surveyed 477 Ashkenazi Jews who were 95 and older about their lifestyle habits (the participants were actually interviewed at age 70, but researchers figured their habits were already pretty entrenched). That information was compared with surveys from 3,164 people from the general population who were born around the same time as the 95-and-uppers.

Overall, there were no significant differences between the two groups in lifestyle habits. They had similar average body mass index, had about the same daily alcohol consumption, got about the same amount of regular exercise, and approximately the same percentage of people followed a low-calorie diet.

Some differences were noted in the study, released online Wednesday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: about 43% of long-living men got regular physical activity, but 57% of men in the general population reported exercising consistently. The two populations had about the same number of overweight people, but the general population group had higher rates of lifetime obesity. Among men, 4.5% of centenarians and 12.1% of the general population were obese, and among women, 9.6% of the centenarians and 16.2% of the general population were obese.

The key, researchers concluded, may lie in genetics. "This study suggests that centenarians may possess additional longevity genes that help to buffer them against the harmful effects of an unhealthy lifestyle," said senior author Dr. Nir Barzilai in a news release. Barzilai is director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in tNew York, N.Y.

Those not blessed with good genes probably need to keep to the straight and narrow if they want to live longer.

"Although this study demonstrates that centenarians can be obese, smoke and avoid exercise, those lifestyle habits are not good choices for most of us who do not have a family history of longevity," Barzilai added. "We should watch our weight, avoid smoking and be sure to exercise, since these activities have been shown to have great health benefits for the general population, including a longer lifespan."

Duly noted.

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