Posts Tagged ‘longevity’

by Elie Dolgin

There might be no natural limit to how long humans can live — at least not one yet in sight — contrary to the claims of some demographers and biologists.

That’s according to a statistical analysis published Thursday in Science1 on the survival probabilities of nearly 4,000 ‘super-elderly’ people in Italy, all aged 105 and older.

A team led by Sapienza University demographer Elisabetta Barbi and University of Roma Tre statistician Francesco Lagona, both based in Rome, found that the risk of death — which, throughout most of life, seems to increase as people age — levels off after age 105, creating a ‘mortality plateau’. At that point, the researchers say, the odds of someone dying from one birthday to the next are roughly 50:50 (see ‘Longevity unlimited’).

“If there is a mortality plateau, then there is no limit to human longevity,” says Jean-Marie Robine, a demographer at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research in Montpellier, who was not involved in the study.

That would mean that someone like Chiyo Miyako, the Japanese great-great-great-grandmother who, at 117, is the world’s oldest known person, could live for years to come — or even forever, at least hypothetically.

Researchers have long debated whether humans have an upper age limit. The consensus holds that the risk of death steadily increases in adulthood, up to about age 80 or so. But there’s vehement disagreement about what happens as people enter their 90s and 100s.

Some scientists have examined demographic data and concluded that there is a fixed, natural ‘shelf-life’ for our species and that mortality rates keep increasing. Others have looked at the same data and concluded that the death risk flattens out in one’s ultra-golden years, and therefore that human lifespan does not have an upper threshold.

Age rage

In 2016, geneticist Jan Vijg and his colleagues at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City rekindled the debate when they analysed the reported ages at death for the world’s oldest individuals over a half-century. They estimated that human longevity hit a ceiling at about 115 years — 125 tops.

Vijg and his team argued2 that with few, if any, gains in maximum lifespan since the mid-1990s, human ageing had reached its natural limit. The longest known lifespan belongs to Jeanne Calment, a French super-centenarian who died in 1997 at age 122.

Experts challenged the statistical methods in the 2016 study, setting off a firestorm into which now step Barbi and Lagona. Working with colleagues at the Italian National Institute of Statistics, the researchers collected records on every Italian aged 105 years and older between 2009 and 2015 — gathering certificates of death, birth and survival in an effort to minimize the chances of ‘age exaggeration’, a common problem among the oldest old.

They also tracked individual survival trajectories from one year to the next, rather than lump people into age intervals as previous studies that combine data sets have done. And by focusing just on Italy, which has one of the highest rates of centenarians per capita in the world, they avoided the issue of variation in data collection among different jurisdictions.

As such, says Kenneth Howse, a health-policy researcher at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing in the United Kingdom, “these data provide the best evidence to date of extreme-age mortality plateaus in humans”.

Ken Wachter, a mathematical demographer at the University of California, Berkeley, and an author of the latest study, suspects that prior disputes over the patterns of late-life mortality have largely stemmed from bad records and statistics. “We have the advantage of better data,” he says. “If we can get data of this quality for other countries, I expect we’re going to see much the same pattern.”

Robine is not so sure. He says that unpublished data from France, Japan and Canada suggest that evidence for a mortality plateau is “not as clear cut”. A global analysis is still needed to determine whether the findings from Italy reflect a universal feature of human ageing, he says.

Off limits

The world is home to around 500,000 people aged 100 and up — a number that’s predicted to nearly double with each coming decade. Even if the risk of late-life mortality remains constant at 50:50, the swelling global membership in the 100-plus club should translate into a creep upwards in the oldest person alive by about one year per decade, says Joop de Beer, a longevity researcher at the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute in The Hague.

Many researchers say they hope to better understand what’s behind the levelling off of mortality rates in later life. Siegfried Hekimi, a geneticist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, speculates that the body’s cells eventually reach a point where repair mechanisms can offset further damage to keep mortality rates level.

“Why this plateaus out and what it means about the process of ageing — I don’t think we have any idea,” Hekimi says.

For James Kirkland, a geriatrician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the strong evidence for a mortality plateau points to the possibility of forestalling death at any age. Some experts think that the very frail are beyond repair. But if the odds of dying don’t increase over time, he says, interventions that slow ageing are likely to make a difference, even in the extremely old.

Not everyone buys that argument — or the conclusions of the latest paper.

Brandon Milholland, a co-author of the 2016 Nature paper, says that the evidence for a mortality plateau is “marginal”, as the study included fewer than 100 people who lived to 110 or beyond. Leonid Gavrilov, a longevity researcher at the University of Chicago in Illinois, notes that even small inaccuracies in the Italian longevity records could lead to a spurious conclusion.

Others say the conclusions of the study are biologically implausible. “You run into basic limitations imposed by body design,” says Jay Olshansky, a bio-demographer at the University of Illinois at Chicago, noting that cells that do not replicate, such as neurons, will continue to wither and die as a person ages, placing upper boundaries on humans’ natural lifespan.

This study is thus unlikely to be the last word on the age-limit dispute, says Haim Cohen, a molecular biologist at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel. “I’m sure that the debate is going to continue.”

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by MELISSA BREYER

If there’s a single way of eating that persists in laying claim as one of the healthiest, it’s the Mediterranean diet. Experts continue to sing the praises of eating plenty of olive oil, plant foods, fish and wine.

The latest research — following several years of headline-making studies — makes it hard to argue with them.

Following a Mediterranean diet can protect against the harmful effects of air pollution, according to a 2018 study conducted by New York University. The study analyzed about 550,000 people for 17 years and factored in their level of exposure to pollution. Those who followed the Mediterranean diet compared to those who didn’t had a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.

“Air pollution is hypothesized to cause bad health effects through oxidative stress and inflammation, and the Mediterranean diet is really rich in foods that are anti-inflammatory and have antioxidants that might intervene through those avenues,” said study author Chris Lim on Time.com.

It’s worth noting that the diet doesn’t protect against ozone exposure. (Researchers believe that ozone exposure effects the cardiac system differently.)

Why the hits keep on coming

Researchers have been uncovering the benefits of this particular diet for years. In fact, the diet’s benefits for heart health were so clear in one 2013 study that researchers ended the study early, saying it was unethical to continue.

Research from 2014 added to the accolades. Scientists in Boston looked at the nutritional data from 4,676 women participating in the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study — the well-known ongoing prospective cohort analysis ­— and discovered that those whose food choices most closely followed a Mediterranean diet had longer telomeres. Telomeres are the protective buffers on the ends of chromosomes and can be used as a biomarker of aging; the longer they are, the better.

“We know that having shorter telomeres is associated with a lower life expectancy and a greater risk of cancer, heart disease and other diseases,” said study coauthor Immaculata De Vivo, an associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Certain lifestyle factors like obesity, sugary sodas, and smoking have been found to accelerate telomere shortening, and now our research suggests the Mediterranean diet can slow this shortening.”

The key is cell aging

The Mediterranean diet isn’t a specific diet plan per se, but rather eating in the traditional style of those living in Mediterranean countries. It’s characterized by consuming a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and unrefined grains. There is plenty of olive oil, but little saturated fat; a moderate intake of fish, but little dairy, meat and poultry. And while cookies and sugar are limited, a regular but moderate dose of wine is involved.

It’s thought that the antioxidants present in the favored foods protect against cell aging. While the researchers didn’t find that any specific food provided the silver bullet, they suggest that it was a combination of the components that predicted telomere length.

The researchers scored each woman’s diet according to how closely it adhered to Mediterranean components. What they found was that each one-point change in their grading system equated to an extra year and a half of life. A three-point change, the study notes, would correspond to an average 4.5 years of aging, which is comparable to the difference between smokers with non-smokers.

The researchers also concluded that women who may have veered slightly from the Mediterranean diet but who still ate a healthy diet — like eating chicken and low-fat dairy products in addition to the Mediterranean basics — also had longer telomeres than those who ate a standard American diet with red meat, saturated fats, sweets and empty calories. Those who followed the Mediterranean diet, however, had the longest telomeres on average.

https://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/mediterranean-diet-could-add-years-to-your-life

Want to prolong your life expectancy by more than a decade? A new study suggests that you can do just that by following these five healthy habits: never smoke, maintain a healthy body-mass index, keep up moderate to vigorous exercise, don’t drink too much alcohol, and eat a healthy diet.

Adhering to those five lifestyle factors at age 50, compared with not adhering to any of them, was associated with 14 additional years of life expectancy among women and 12.2 additional years among men in the study, published in the journal Circulation on Monday.

Each of those factors is significantly associated with a reduced risk of dying from the top two killers in the United States, cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to the study.
About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the US each year, which is about one in every four deaths, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 609,640 Americans are expected to die of cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

“These are some of the leading causes of premature death, so by preventing or reducing the incidence of those diseases, it promotes longevity, and it also improves survival after diagnosis of those diseases,” said Dr. Meir Stampfer, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who was a co-author of the study.

“We can do so much better for having a long healthy life by pretty simple minimal changes in our behavior, and only 8% of adults in our country are adhering to these,” he said. “The main take-home message is that there’s huge gains in health and longevity to be had just by simple changes in our behavior pattern, and as a country, I think we need to make it easier for ourselves to do this by promoting tobacco cessation, by providing better environments for physical activity and so on.”

Globally, the US ranks 43rd when it comes to life expectancy at birth, with an average life expectancy of 80, according to 2017 data from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.
The three countries ranked highest for life expectancy at birth are Monaco, with 89.4 years; Japan, with 85.3 years; and Singapore, with 85.2 years, according to those data.

The countries with the lowest life expectancy at birth, based on that data, are Chad, with 50.6 years; Guinea-Bissau, with 51 years; and Afghanistan, with 51.7 years.

The ‘surprising’ impact of behaviors on longevity

For the new study, researchers measured the association between those five lifestyle factors and premature death using data from the national Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The data came from 1980 to 2014 and included more than 122,000 people combined.

Then, the researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys to estimate the distribution of those modifiable lifestyle factors among adults in the United States. Those data, from 2013 to 2014, consisted of 2,128 adults, 50 to 80 years old.

The researchers also derived death rates of US adults using the CDC’s Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research database.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that, in 2014, the overall projected life expectancy at age 50 was to live 33.3 more years for women and 29.8 more years for men.

Yet among the adults who reported that they adopted all five healthy lifestyle factors, the researchers found, they lived 43.1 more years among women and 37.6 more years among men.

Among those adults who reported that they adhered to none of the five healthy lifestyle factors, the researchers found that they lived only 29 additional years among women and 25.5 additional years among men.

“To me, the surprising outcome was how strong it was: what a big impact these simple behaviors could have on life expectancy,” Stampfer said. “I was surprised that it was that pronounced.”

Among the women, on average, about 30.8% of the life expectancy at age 50 that they gained from adopting five, versus zero, of those lifestyle factors was attributed to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease death; 21.2% was attributed to a reduced risk of cancer and 48% to other causes of death.

Among the men, those percentages were 34.1% attributed to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease death, 22.8% attributed to a reduced risk of cancer and 43.1% to other causes.

The study had some limitations, including that the data on adherence to the five lifestyle factors were all self-reported, making outcome vulnerable to measurement errors.

Also, the data analysis did not include measures of certain health conditions that are risk factors for a shorter life expectancy, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

That limitation, however, “is both a strength and a limitation, in a way … because what we’re estimating here is the prolongation of life expectancy just based on behaviors,” Stampfer said.
“Obviously, it’s much better to do these healthy behaviors from childhood, really, but if you’re beyond age 50, beyond age 60, beyond age 70, it’s not too late,” he added.

The factor that was seen as more ‘powerful’

The findings should encourage and motivate people to adopt a healthier lifestyle, said Dr. Douglas Vaughan, chairman of the department of medicine in Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.

Though the study highlighted how the combination of all five lifestyle factors could help prolong life expectancy, Vaughan pointed out how each individual factor also was tied to a reduced risk of premature death.

“It looks like cigarette smoking has a more powerful effect than the other lifestyle changes or behaviors. Certainly, maintaining a reasonable body-mass index is a great way to protect oneself against the development of diabetes,” Vaughan said.

Body-mass index, a calculation derived from a person’s weight and height, is used as a screening tool for body fatness. A normal or healthy body-mass index is typically said to be between 18.5 and 24.9.

“So, in aggregate, we see the effect on longevity, but you can imagine it’s largely through effects on cardiovascular risk and metabolic risk,” Vaughan said. “It suggests potentially at a defined point in life, say age 50, if you adhere to a healthy paradigm like this, you can have an impact on your longevity and on your health span.”

Dr. Jack Der-Sarkissian, a family medicine physician and assistant area medical director of Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, called smoking “the least-debated health risk factor.”

“Beyond cancer risk, smoking contributes to lung disease, heart disease and diabetes. The study shows that even minimal smoking — from one to 14 cigarettes a day — is associated with increased death due to cancer and heart disease,” said Der-Sarkissian, who was not involved in the new study.

As for some of the other lifestyle factors, “getting weight below a BMI of 30 appears to help considerably, according to the study. A higher body weight is linked to increased risk of diabetes and cancer, among other obesity-related conditions,” he said. “The study suggests physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day of moderate or vigorous activities, including brisk walking.”

https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/30/health/life-expectancy-habits-study/index.html

By Elizabeth Pennisi

Imagine having to wait a century to have sex. Such is the life of the Greenland shark—a 5-meter-long predator that may live more than 400 years, according to a new study, making it the longest lived vertebrate by at least a century. So it should come as no surprise that the females are not ready to reproduce until after they hit their 156th birthday.

The longevity of these sharks is “astonishing,” says Michael Oellermann, a cold-water physiologist at Loligo Systems in Viborg, Denmark, who was not involved with the work. That’s particularly true because oceans are quite dangerous places, he notes, where predators, food scarcity, and disease can strike at any time.

Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus) had been rumored to be long-lived. In the 1930s, a fisheries biologist in Greenland tagged more than 400, only to discover that the sharks grow only about 1 centimeter a year—a sure sign that they’re in it for the long haul given how large they get. Yet scientists had been unable to figure out just how many years the sharks last.

Intrigued, marine biologist John Steffensen at the University of Copenhagen collected a piece of backbone from a Greenland shark captured in the North Atlantic, hoping it would have growth rings he could count to age the animal. He found none, so he consulted Jan Heinemeier, an expert in radiocarbon dating at Aarhus University in Denmark. Heinemeier suggested using the shark’s eye lenses instead. His aim was not to count growth rings, but instead to measure the various forms of carbon in the lenses, which can give clues to an animal’s age.

Then came the hard part. Steffensen and his graduate student Julius Nielsen spent several years collecting dead Greenland sharks, most of them accidently ensnared in trawling nets used to catch other types of fish. After that, they employed an unusual technique: They looked for high amounts of carbon-14, a heavy isotope left behind by nuclear bomb testing in the mid-1950s. Extra carbon from the resulting “bomb pulse” had infiltrated ocean ecosystems by the early 1960s, meaning that inert body parts formed during this time—in particular eye lenses—also have more of the heavy element. Using this technique, the researchers concluded that two of their sharks—both less than 2.2 meters long—were born after the 1960s. One other small shark was born right around 1963.

The team used these well-dated sharks as starting points for a growth curve that could estimate the ages of the other sharks based on their sizes. To do this, they started with the fact that newborn Greenland sharks are 42 centimeters long. They also relied on a technique researchers have long used to calculate the ages of sediments—say in an archaeological dig—based on both their radiocarbon dates and how far below the surface they happen to be. In this case, researchers correlated radiocarbon dates with shark length to calculate the age of their sharks. The oldest was 392 plus or minus 120 years, they reported in Science. That makes Greenland sharks the longest lived vertebrates on record by a huge margin; the next oldest is the bowhead whale, at 211 years old. And given the size of most pregnant females—close to 4 meters—they are at least 150 years old before they have young, the group estimates.

Oellermann is impressed not only with how old the sharks are, but also how Nielsen and his colleagues figured out their ages. “Who would have expected that nuclear bombs [one day] could help to determine the life span of marine sharks?” he asks.

He and others think cold water helps lengthen the animals’ lives by slowing down their growth and biochemical activity. “Lower metabolic rate plays a big role,” agrees Shawn Xu, a geneticist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “But that’s not the whole story.” Three years ago, his work in nematodes showed that cold can also activate antiaging genes that help an animal better fold proteins, get rid of DNA-damaging molecules, and even fight off infections more effectively, extending life span. The cold-activated molecules “are evolutionarily conserved” across the animal kingdom, and thus these pathways very likely exist in these sharks, too, he predicts.

Paul Butler isn’t surprised that frigid waters host such old creatures. In 2013, the sclerochronologist (a scientist who studies the growth of hard tissues in invertebrates) at Bangor University in the United Kingdom and his colleagues described a 500-year-old ocean quahog (Arctica islandica), a chowder clam found in the North Atlantic. Still, even though two multicentenarian species have turned up in the North Atlantic in just a few years, Butler is skeptical that there are many more out there awaiting discovery. “It won’t be that we won’t have more surprises,” he says, “but I regard these [two] as exceptions.”

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/greenland-shark-may-live-400-years-smashing-longevity-record

By Robert Preidt

In remote Italian villages nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and mountains lives a group of several hundred citizens over the age of 90. Researchers at the University of Rome La Sapienza and University of California San Diego School of Medicine have identified common psychological traits in members of this group.

The study, publishing in International Psychogeriatrics, found participants who were 90 to 101 years old had worse physical health, but better mental well-being than their younger family members ages 51 to 75.

“There have been a number of studies on very old adults, but they have mostly focused on genetics rather than their mental health or personalities,” said Dilip V. Jeste MD, senior author of the study, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “The main themes that emerged from our study, and appear to be the unique features associated with better mental health of this rural population, were positivity, work ethic, stubbornness and a strong bond with family, religion and land.”

There were 29 study participants from nine villages in the Cilento region of southern Italy. The researchers used quantitative rating scales for assessing mental and physical health, as well as qualitative interviews to gather personal narratives of the participants, including topics such as migrations, traumatic events and beliefs. Their children or other younger family members were also given the same rating scales and additionally asked to describe their impressions about the personality traits of their older relatives.

“The group’s love of their land is a common theme and gives them a purpose in life. Most of them are still working in their homes and on the land. They think, ‘This is my life and I’m not going to give it up,'” said Anna Scelzo, first author of the study with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in Chiavarese, Italy

Interview responses also suggested that the participants had considerable self-confidence and decision-making skills.

“This paradox of aging supports the notion that well-being and wisdom increase with aging even though physical health is failing,” said Jeste, also the Estelle and Edgar Levi Chair in Aging and director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UC San Diego.

Some direct quotes from the study’s interviews include:
•”I lost my beloved wife only a month ago and I am very sad for this. We were married for 70 years. I was close to her during all of her illness and I have felt very empty after her loss. But thanks to my sons, I am now recovering and feeling much better. I have four children, ten grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. I have fought all my life and I am always ready for changes. I think changes bring life and give chances to grow.”
•”I am always thinking for the best. There is always a solution in life. This is what my father has taught me: to always face difficulties and hope for the best.”
•”I am always active. I do not know what stress is. Life is what it is and must be faced … always.”
•”If I have to say, I feel younger now than when I was young.”

“We also found that this group tended to be domineering, stubborn and needed a sense of control, which can be a desirable trait as they are true to their convictions and care less about what others think,” said Scelzo. “This tendency to control the environment suggests notable grit that is balanced by a need to adapt to changing circumstances.”

The researchers plan to follow the participants with multiple longitudinal assessments and compare biological associations with physical and psychological health.

“Studying the strategies of exceptionally long-lived and lived-well individuals, who not just survive but also thrive and flourish, enhances our understanding of health and functional capacities in all age groups,” said Jeste.

Study co-authors include: Salvatore Di Somma, University of Rome La Sapienza; David Brenner, Nicholas Schork and Lori Montross, UC San Diego; and Paola Antonini, 3B Biotech Research.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California – San Diego. Original written by Michelle Brubaker.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171212091045.htm

Journal Reference:
1.Anna Scelzo, Salvatore Di Somma, Paola Antonini, Lori P. Montross, Nicholas Schork, David Brenner, Dilip V. Jeste. Mixed-methods quantitative–qualitative study of 29 nonagenarians and centenarians in rural Southern Italy: focus on positive psychological traits. International Psychogeriatrics, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S1041610217002721

Every hour you run extends your life span by seven hours, a new study has revealed.

Scientists say that running just one hour a week is the most effective exercise to increase life expectancy.

This holds true no matter how many miles or how fast you run, the researchers claim.
For those that take this advice to heart and run regularly, they say you can extend your life span by up to three years.

The study, conducted at Iowa State University, reanalyzed data from The Cooper Institute, in Texas, and also examined results from a number of other recent studies that looked at the link between exercise and mortality.

Scientists found that the new review reinforced the findings of earlier research.
At whatever pace or mileage, a person’s risk of premature death dropped by 40 percent when he or she took up running.

This applied even when researchers controlled for smoking, drinking or a history of health problems such as obesity.

Three years ago, the same team conducted a study that analyzed more than 55,000 adults, and determined that running for just seven minutes a day could help slash the risk of dying from heart disease.

They followed participants over a period of 15 years, and found that of the more than 3,000 who died, only one-third of deaths were from heart disease.

Co-author Dr Duck-chul High-mileage runners also questioned if they were overperforming and if, at some point, running would actually contribute to premature mortality.
After analyzing the data in the new study, scientists determined that hour for hour, running statistically returns more time to people’s lives than it consumes.
In The Cooper Institute study, participants reported an average of two hours running per week.
The amount ran over the course of 40 years would add up to fewer than six months, but it could increase life expectancy by more than three years.

The researchers also determined that if every non-runner who had been part of the reviewed studies took up the sport, there would have been 16 percent fewer deaths over all, and 25 percent fewer fatal heart attacks.

Other types of exercise were also found to be beneficial. Walking and cycling dropped the risk of premature death by about 12 percent.

Dr Lee says scientists remain uncertain as to why running helps with longevity.

But he says it’s likely because the sport combats many common risk factors for early death, including high blood pressure and extra body fat, especially around the middle.

It also raises aerobic fitness, one of the best-known indicators for long-term health.
Running, however, does not make you immortal and the life expectancy rates don’t increase beyond three years.

Improvements in life expectancy generally plateaued at about four hours of running per week, Dr Lee said. But they did not decline.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4405252/Every-hour-run-adds-7-hours-lifespan.html#ixzz4e5eSXAzj

By Marlene Cimons

Mary Harada’s father lived to 102, healthy and sharp to the end. She wouldn’t mind living that long, if she could stay as mentally and physically fit as he was. “He died sitting in his chair,’’ says Harada, 80, a retired history professor who lives in West Newbury, Mass. “He was in excellent shape until his heart stopped.’’

She may, in fact, have a good chance of getting there. Longevity experts believe that extreme old age — 100 or older — runs in families, and often is strikingly apparent in families where there are several siblings or other close relatives who have reached that milestone. (Harada’s great-aunt — her father’s aunt — also lived an extremely long life, to 104.)

Moreover, researchers are finding that many of those who live to extreme old age remain in remarkably good condition, delaying the onset of such chronic and debilitating age-related illnesses as cancer, heart disease and diabetes until close to the end of their lives, and a certain percentage don’t get them at all.

“It’s one thing to live to be 100 and quite another to live to be 100 and be in good shape,’’ says Winifred K. Rossi, deputy director of the Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology at the National Institute on Aging. The institute is sponsoring an ongoing study of more than 500 families with long-lived members that involves nearly 5,000 individuals. “Something is going on that has protected them from the bad stuff that causes problems for other people earlier in life.’’

Experts attribute healthy longevity to a combination of good genes and good behaviors. Good behaviors play a greater role than genes in getting you to your mid-to-late 80s — don’t smoke or drink alcohol, exercise regularly and eat healthfully — while getting beyond 90, and to 100 or even older, probably depends more heavily on genes, they say. Families with a cluster of members with exceptional longevity don’t occur by chance, they say, but probably from familial factors they all share.

Growing numbers

Centenarians have become a fast-growing group in this country. In 1980, there were 32,194 Americans age 100 or older. By 2010, the number had grown to 53,364, or 1.73 centenarians per 10,000 people, according to the Census Bureau. This represents a 65.8 percent increase during that period, compared with a 36.3 percent rise in the general population.

Moreover, the number of Americans 90 and older nearly tripled during the past three decades, reaching 1.9 million in 2010, and is expected to more than quadruple between 2010 and 2050, according to the bureau. Globally, the number of centenarians is expected to increase tenfold during that time, according to the aging institute.

This is probably due to numerous factors, among them improved health care, dietary changes and reduced rates of smoking.

“When I started practicing, it was rare to see someone of 100, but now it’s not that strange at all,’’ says Anne B. Newman, director of the Center for Healthy Aging at the University of Pittsburgh. “More people have had the opportunity to get there,’’ largely because of advances in public health and medicine.

But as the numbers of very old have increased and the examination of human genetics has become more sophisticated, researchers have been trying to discover the genetic and biological factors that contribute to a life span of 100 or older and why some centenarians stay healthy for so long. Not surprisingly, what they are finding is complicated and far from a one-size-fits-all answer.

“Aging is not simple,’’ says Thomas Perls, a professor of medicine at Boston University and director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center. “There are many different biological mechanisms involved in aging, so it makes sense that there are different genes involved. We are still in the infancy of figuring this out.’’

Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, has been conducting several studies that focus on inherited genetic and biological influences that promote longevity.

In 2003, for example, his team discovered that centenarians, especially women, and their offspring have significantly higher HDL, or good cholesterol, which protects against heart disease, hypertension and metabolic syndrome, a series of risk factors that raise the chances of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Health & Science
Do you think you’ll live to be 100? The answer may be in your genes.
By Marlene Cimons December 14, 2015
Mary Harada’s father lived to 102, healthy and sharp to the end. She wouldn’t mind living that long, if she could stay as mentally and physically fit as he was. “He died sitting in his chair,’’ says Harada, 80, a retired history professor who lives in West Newbury, Mass. “He was in excellent shape until his heart stopped.’’

She may, in fact, have a good chance of getting there. Longevity experts believe that extreme old age — 100 or older — runs in families, and often is strikingly apparent in families where there are several siblings or other close relatives who have reached that milestone. (Harada’s great-aunt — her father’s aunt — also lived an extremely long life, to 104.)

Moreover, researchers are finding that many of those who live to extreme old age remain in remarkably good condition, delaying the onset of such chronic and debilitating age-related illnesses as cancer, heart disease and diabetes until close to the end of their lives, and a certain percentage don’t get them at all.

[Tech Titan’s Latest Project: Defying Death]

“It’s one thing to live to be 100 and quite another to live to be 100 and be in good shape,’’ says Winifred K. Rossi, deputy director of the Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology at the National Institute on Aging. The institute is sponsoring an ongoing study of more than 500 families with long-lived members that involves nearly 5,000 individuals. “Something is going on that has protected them from the bad stuff that causes problems for other people earlier in life.’’

( Martin Tognola for The Washington Post)
Experts attribute healthy longevity to a combination of good genes and good behaviors. Good behaviors play a greater role than genes in getting you to your mid-to-late 80s — don’t smoke or drink alcohol, exercise regularly and eat healthfully — while getting beyond 90, and to 100 or even older, probably depends more heavily on genes, they say. Families with a cluster of members with exceptional longevity don’t occur by chance, they say, but probably from familial factors they all share.

Growing numbers
Centenarians have become a fast-growing group in this country. In 1980, there were 32,194 Americans age 100 or older. By 2010, the number had grown to 53,364, or 1.73 centenarians per 10,000 people, according to the Census Bureau. This represents a 65.8 percent increase during that period, compared with a 36.3 percent rise in the general population.

Moreover, the number of Americans 90 and older nearly tripled during the past three decades, reaching 1.9 million in 2010, and is expected to more than quadruple between 2010 and 2050, according to the bureau. Globally, the number of centenarians is expected to increase tenfold during that time, according to the aging institute.

This is probably due to numerous factors, among them improved health care, dietary changes and reduced rates of smoking.

“When I started practicing, it was rare to see someone of 100, but now it’s not that strange at all,’’ says Anne B. Newman, director of the Center for Healthy Aging at the University of Pittsburgh. “More people have had the opportunity to get there,’’ largely because of advances in public health and medicine.

But as the numbers of very old have increased and the examination of human genetics has become more sophisticated, researchers have been trying to discover the genetic and biological factors that contribute to a life span of 100 or older and why some centenarians stay healthy for so long. Not surprisingly, what they are finding is complicated and far from a one-size-fits-all answer.

“Aging is not simple,’’ says Thomas Perls, a professor of medicine at Boston University and director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center. “There are many different biological mechanisms involved in aging, so it makes sense that there are different genes involved. We are still in the infancy of figuring this out.’’

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Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, has been conducting several studies that focus on inherited genetic and biological influences that promote longevity.

In 2003, for example, his team discovered that centenarians, especially women, and their offspring have significantly higher HDL, or good cholesterol, which protects against heart disease, hypertension and metabolic syndrome, a series of risk factors that raise the chances of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

The results, which found HDL levels of 60 and higher within this group — anything lower than 50 raises the risk of heart disease — suggest a heritable trait “that promotes healthy aging,’’ he says. This isn’t surprising, considering that women outlive men overall and — in 2010 — nearly 83 percent of centenarians were female, according to the Census Bureau.

Unusual chemistry

The Einstein researchers also have found that centenarians and their offspring often make unusually large amounts of a peptide (a short chain of amino acids) called humanin, which declines with age in most people and whose loss contributes to the development of Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. This may help explain why those who produce higher levels of humanin enjoy greater protection against those diseases and experience exceptionally long lives. For these individuals, humanin diminishes as they age, too, but the levels are much higher to start with than those of average people.

Barzilai believes the propensity for high levels of both HDL and humanin is heritable: “Offspring of centenarians have higher levels of humanin than their parents. Same with HDL. It declines with age, so it’s more apparent in the offspring.’’

Perls and his colleagues, in a study released almost four years ago, concluded there is no single common gene variant responsible for exceptional longevity. Rather, after examining about 280 gene variations, they discovered a series of gene combinations — nearly two dozen, in fact — that they believe contribute to long lives, “meaning there are different ways to get to these old ages,’’ Perls says. “It’s like playing the lottery. If you get all seven numbers, you’ll hit the jackpot.’’

These genetic groupings also seem to be involved in protecting against developing age-related diseases, since the scientists did not find an absence of disease-causing genes in their study group. “They have just as many as everybody else, which was a big surprise to us,’’ Perls says.

Also, the researchers found that the children of these healthy centenarians stay healthy longer than their same-age counterparts. The offspring of centenarians show 60 percent less heart disease, stroke, diabetes and hypertension, and 80 percent fewer overall deaths when they are in their early 70s, than those who were born at the same time but who do not have longevity in their families.

“They remain incredibly healthy into their 70s and 80s, and their mortality rate is very low, compared to others born at the same time,’’ Perls says.

Perls has studied 2,300 centenarians since 1995, including “super-centenarians’’ of 110 or older, and their offspring. He says about 45 percent of those who reach 100 manage to delay chronic age-related diseases until after they turn 80, and about 15 percent never get them at all.

Furthermore, he found that “semi-super-centenarians’’ — that is, those who are 105 to 109 — and super-centenarians don’t develop those diseases until roughly the final 5 percent of their very long lives. “They are dealing with diseases much better than the average person,’’ he says, who is more likely to develop these diseases in the 60s and 70s.

Many eventually die from the same diseases as non-centenarians, “but they do it 30 years later,’’ Barzilai says.

‘An additional 10 years’

Perls says that if you want to know whether you will live to 100, “you don’t have to do all this complicated genetic testing. Just look at your family and your health-related behaviors.’’ If you engage in healthful practices, you could reach your late 80s. “If you have the genes for longevity and you fight them [with risky behaviors], you will chop time off,’’ he says. “But if there is longevity in your family and you don’t do those things, you might get an additional 10 years past 90.’’

Newman agrees. “Don’t underestimate how powerful lifestyle is in longevity,’’ she says. “Even if longevity runs in your family, your life expectancy still will be more influenced by how you take care of yourself. If you have a centenarian parent, don’t count on living to 100 if you smoke, drink, eat a high-fat diet, and are sedentary and sleep-deprived.’’

Mary Harada thinks less about her genes and more about the unexpected event — breaking a bone, for example — that could make her a burden to her adult children.

“I don’t spend much time thinking about how long I’m going to live,’’ she says. “Whatever happens, happens. I spend more time thinking about how long I’m going to stay in my current house.’’

She has no age-related diseases and always has taken good care of herself. She has been a runner for 47 years, and she lifts weights. She shuns smoking and avoids most processed foods. She lives alone — her husband died last year — and she does most of the maintenance in and around her four-bedroom house, including leaf removal, routine yard work and spending two hours every 10 days in spring and summer mowing a very hilly lawn.

“I’ve lived here for 40 years, and I like living in this house and in this town,’’ she says. “If I could be like my father, and not break anything, I would stay here another five to 10 years. That would be wonderful.’’

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/do-you-have-genes-that-will-let-you-live-to-age-100/2015/12/09/1460f234-953d-11e5-a2d6-f57908580b1f_story.html