Do you have a family history of exceptionally long-living relatives? If you do, congratulations. A recent study suggests that you may be packing "longevity genes" that could allow you to eat, drink, and even smoke like the rest of us and still outlive us all, living well into your 80's, 90's, and beyond.
In a study conducted by scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, researchers interviewed almost 500 men and women between the ages of 95 and 112 in hopes of shedding new light on how lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol consumption, and dietary habits may affect longevity in so called "centenarians."
"Although most of the studies in individuals with exceptional longevity have focused on genetic factors," explains the team of scientists in their research paper, published today in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, "the lifestyle of this population has received less attention."
The study's long-living participants were asked about their weights, heights, and the lifestyle habits they practiced at age 70. The centenarians' answers were then compared with ones gathered from over 3,000 members of the general population belonging to the same birth cohort (meaning they were born around the same time), originally collected in a national health survey between 1971 and 1974.
The results of the study revealed that the centenarians' living habits earlier in life were no more virtuous than those of the general public, be they in terms of body mass index, smoking habits, physical activity or diet.
Previous studies have uncovered a number of genes that are associated with age-related illnesses. What's more, people with exceptional longevity have been shown to possess just as many of these detrimental genes as the general population. So what keeps centenarian's ticking?
"In previous studies of our centenarians, we've identified gene variants that exert particular physiology effects, such as causing significantly elevated levels of HDL or 'good' cholesterol," said Dr. Nir Barzilai, the senior author of the study. "This study suggests that centenarians may possess additional longevity genes that help to buffer them against the harmful effects of an unhealthy lifestyle."
Despite the study's findings on centenarian superiority, it's important to remember that — especially for us mortals lacking longevity genes — diet, exercise, and other healthy habits remain important.
"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," said Barzilai. "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."