Research shows that both genetics and lifestyle factors contribute to our health and longevity. However, there are so-called “slow agers” who seem to be genetically predisposed to live to 100 even when adopting unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking. New research suggests that about one in 10,000 people seem to be part of this guaranteed centenarian group and there are several factors that may suggest whether or not you may be among them!
- You have long-lived relatives. This one makes sense—if your first-tier relatives are living past 90 then you likely have longevity genes in your family. According to the New England Centenarian Study conducted at the Boston University School of medicine, at least half centenarians have a parent, sibling or grandparents who also displayed remarkable longevity living to 90+.
- You have a strong social support system. Numerous studies have shown that loneliness has real, negative health consequences, while maintaining social connectedness supports healthy longevity. People who are active in their communities, volunteer, and maintain connections with family, friends, coworkers or religious groups tend to live longer than those who do not.
- You’re not a big worrier. Moderate worriers, those who tend to take fewer risks, have a 50% decreased risk of death in any given year compared to chronic worriers.
- You can walk fast and far. Looking at gait speed of about 35,000 individuals ages 65 and older, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that as speed increased by 0.1 meters per second, risk of death decreased by 12 percent. In addition, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a correlation between walking distance ability and morbidity where adults ages 70 to 79 who were able to walk a quarter mile or more were less likely to suffer disability and illness and more likely to live for another six years.
- You’re a woman. Though researchers are not completely sure of the reasons why—the potentially protective role of menstruation and higher rates of suicide among men are some of the theories—women seem to have an advantage in longevity. Males fear not! The survival gap is narrowing and male centenarians are, on average, healthier than their female counterparts.
- You’ve had a child after age 35 (and are a woman). The New England Centenarian Study found that women who naturally conceive and bear children after age 40 are four times more likely to live to 100 than women who do not. The theory is that women who are able to give birth in their late 30s or 40s likely have reproductive systems (and thus, bodies) that are aging slowly.
- You are a healthy weight. A 2011 study conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that a group of long-lived adults, ages 95 to 112, were much less likely to be obese than a comparison group born at the same time that had been studied in the 1970s (when still alive). Other studies have replicated these findings.
- You have long telomeres. Telomeres are “caps” of sorts that protect the ends of chromosomes. As cells divide, the telomeres shorten until they reach a point where division is no longer possible. This process called senescence manifests as the changes we see in aging. Evidence suggests that the longer your telomeres, the slower you’re aging. In some cases, centenarians have an overactive version of the enzyme that rebuilds telomeres so longevity again goes back to genes. However, other studies suggest that not smoking, avoiding chronic stress, and maintaining a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help preserve telomere length.
- You’re upbeat and positive. Longitudinal studies conducted at the Stanford Center on Longevity suggest that those who live longer tend to experience more positive emotions than negative ones. Director Laura Carstensen suggests that feeling positive and satisfied with your life means you experience less stress and thus do not experience the negative health benefits that come along with high stress levels.
What is your secret to living longer?