Long life is all in the genes new study suggests

By Colin Ricketts - 04 Aug 2011 12:17:22 GMT
Long life is all in the genes new study suggests

The old story of aged relatives who live to ripe old age despite not giving a damn about their health - eating, drinking and smoking to their heart's content - has been given some scientific backing with the discovery of longevity genes in a new study.

A team from Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York looked at the lifestyles of 477 Ashkenazi Jews who had made it past 95 (one to 112) and were still living independent lives. Ashkenazi Jews were chosen because they come from a relatively uniform population so differences in genes stand out more easily.

Nir Barzilai, M.D., the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair of Aging Research and director of the Institute for Aging Research at Einstein, was the senior author of the study, which was published in in the online edition of Journal of the American Geriatrics Society this week.

The aged participants were quizzed on their lifestyles when they were a mere 70 years old and the results were compared with date from 3,164 born around the same time and whose lifestyles had been assessed by a national survey at around 70 years of age too.

And, good news for some of us is that the survivors didn't follow monastic lives of self-control, but were about as healthy in their habits as the rest of the population - in some behaviours the very old group of patients behaved in a manner that might be considered less healthy.

For example; 24 percent of the very old consumed alcohol daily, against 22 percent of the general population. When it came to exercise, only 43 percent of male centenarians exercised daily whereas 57 percent of men in the comparison group did.

The one area where there was a significant difference between those who lived very long lives and the control group was in obesity. While, the centenarians were just as likely to become overweight as ordinary mortals, they were much less likely to tip over into obesity. For men, the rates were 4.5 percent of centenarians against 12.1 percent of controls; and for women, 9.6 percent of centenarians were obese versus 16.2 percent of controls.

"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 Dr. 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."

As well as monitoring the usual health signifiers, the researchers also asked the experts - the centenarians themselves - why they thought they'd lived so long. One third said it ran in their families; a fifth said they'd been physically active, but others - 19 percent - put it down to a positive attitude; six percent said religion or spirituality had played a part while eight percent put it all down to luck.

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