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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.
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:
- Don't smoke.
- Be physically active every day.
- 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.
- Be sure to get enough vitamin D and calcium.
- Maintain a healthy weight and body shape.
- Challenge your mind.
- Build a strong social network.
- Protect your sight, hearing and general health by following preventive care guidelines.
- 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.
- 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.