Living to 100 and beyond: the right genes plus a healthy lifestyle

Howard LeWine, M.D.

Chief Medical Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

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What is it that lets some people live to age 100 and beyond? A new study from the ongoing New England Centenarian Study suggests that protective genes may make a big contribution.

In what the researchers describe as the first study of its kind, they analyzed and deciphered the entire genetic codes of a man and a woman who lived past the age of 114. The two so-called supercentenarians had:

  • DNA that appeared to be very similar to people who did not have long lives
  • about the same number of gene variants linked to increased disease risk as seen in people from the general population whose genomes have been sequenced
  • more than 50 possible longevity-associated variants in genes, some of which were unexpected and had not been seen before.

The researchers hypothesize that the genes linked with long life may somehow offset the disease-linked genes. This might then allow an extended lifespan. The results were reported in the journal Frontiers in Genetics.

Taking control

At the beginning of the 20th century, the average life expectancy at birth in the United States was just under 50 years. Today, the average newborn can expect to reach 80 years. This great leap forward has little or nothing to do with genes, and everything to do with advances in public health and healthy lifestyles.

During the first 75 years of life, genes have a relatively small influence on longevity, accounting for only 20% to 25% of the reasons that you make it to that age. Not smoking, eating healthfully, getting plenty of exercise, and limiting alcohol matter the most.

Once you hit your mid-80s, genes matter more and more. And once your reach your 90s, how much longer you are likely to live was largely determined the day your father’s sperm fertilized your mother’s egg.

There’s no need to have your DNA sequenced yet to determine what genes you carry. It won’t change what you need to do now. You have the power to change many things that influence your health and how long you live. Here are 10 steps that will help you have the longest, healthiest life possible:

  1. Don’t smoke.
  2. Be physically active every day.
  3. Eat a healthy diet rich in whole grains, lean protein, vegetables, and fruits. Reduce or avoid unhealthy saturated fats and trans fats. Instead, use healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
  4. Be sure to get enough vitamin D and calcium.
  5. Maintain a healthy weight and body shape.
  6. Challenge your mind.
  7. Build a strong social network.
  8. Protect your sight, hearing and general health by following preventive care guidelines.
  9. Floss, brush, and see a dentist regularly. Poor oral health may have many effects. It can lead to poor nutrition, pain and possibly even a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
  10. Discuss with your doctor whether you need any medicine to help you stay healthy. These might include medicines to control high blood pressure, treat osteoporosis or lower cholesterol, for example.


  1. DNA

    Most of the people cannot reach 100 years old because of drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. If I will reach that one I am the most happiest person in the world. Base in what I read here is very important to take care of our health. And also do proper exercise and eat only healthy foods that rich in vitamins and minerals.

  2. Anonymous

    wow! what a wonderful search break through, that to some extend genes those matters how long one stay alive with quality health care.

  3. Born August 6 1930. In spite of father and his father in dementia by age 74, my having 9 TIAs in one day (Nov.2004) 7 in hospitlal and a lacuna Infarct 10 days laterand hospitalised 5 days,now working fifty hours per week, mind/brain better than ever and physicals amaze GPs. More by email if interested plus free E-Book The Myth of the Balanced Diet.

  4. John Shiloh

    Excellent steps to follow. Longevity is truly an art and science that takes a long time to master, but once you do get it right you can live a long time. I believe the human body was meant to live a long, long time. But when you start putting bad things in your body, it doesn’t function as it was designed to. This why nutrition is essential to feeding every cell of the body so we can prevent pre-mature aging and live a healthy, joyful life.

    Thanks for sharing practical steps that everyone should listen to.

  5. Eva Hart

    To: Greg Perock

    Sorry for the spelling error. I typed Perock not peroxide. I’ll have to check back up to word and be sure it’s correct.

    I want to add another thought here to my answer to your post. I discovers a cure for a mild case of Tinnitus I had and for free gave the cure to all the ear ENT clinics at hospitals in San Francisco. I gave it for free because I found compassion and the money was there when I needed it for a major surgery. I wanted to give back the wonderful care and compassion I found. Thus my even posting how Healthcare is Constitutional and a Democratic way of life. I was glad to do so.

    Consequently, maybe you have Tinnitus and will benefit from my cure once it is researched first. Furthermore, don’t you see how if you kindly and compassionately help others with Good Healthcare how you and your family
    will benefit also! Eva L. Hart Sfc

  6. Eva Hart

    To: Greg Peroxide

    It is a sad rendition that when someone as myself tries to open the Golden door to life saving healthcare and great deliverance from pain of any kind that all one can think of is the $ dollar bill and some negative angle to the article
    I cannot believe such comments as yours. Think of how you will be compassionately saving a life and removing someone”s pain from cancer and so firth. What does Welfare have to do with my article showng Healthcare for all is Constitutional. Just think only of showing compassion in healing a person and being a nice person and be gla
    d a Golden Door has opened. Maybe some day you’ll show some class and Thank me when your sick! Can you do that? Eva L. Hart Sfc

  7. Lilia

    I definitely enjoyed the empowerment I felt while reading this post, in the fact that we can take control our health by making necessary and important changes to our lifestyle, such as flossing everyday and eating a balanced/nutritious diet. Yet, I wished it included ways that one can achieve some of the 10 steps mentioned. For example, some of the steps seem a bit vague. Step 8 states, ‘Protect your sight, hearing and general health by following preventive care guidelines.’ However, few people may know what those preventative measures are to protect their vision, sight and hearing.

  8. Cassidy

    An interesting study. I like the ten steps you list at the end; such common-sense measures and so alien to much of our society today. Many of these health practices were known as far back as 1833 when a young church leader named Joseph Smith brought forth a document listing them. Though there was no scientific evidence to back him up then, studies like this and The China Study now prove that what he claimed was true. You can see the original document here:

    you can read the text here:

  9. Eva Hart

    To: Harvard Health Blog

    Thank-you for your longevity article. Now before the US Supreme court is the sad issue of whether Healthcare is Constitutional or not. It’s sad because any smart person would want good health. No one wants to die. My contribution here
    is that in our Preamble to the Constitution it states,”To promote the General Welfare means to consider the needs of all the people. It promotes the General Welfare by making the people “Healthy,”happy,and prosperous.” Taxes does this too. From Vanza Devereaux,’63 The Government of a Free Nation. CA State Education Dept. On Amazon bkstr. I say thus it is Constitutional to give all people life saving Health care. Eva Hart Sfc

    • Greg Perock

      A Constitutionally limited government can not at the same time be a Welfare State! Smart people know that a healthy body contains a healthy brain–the body carries the lamp.

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