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Research Shows That Genes Are Most Important For Extreme Longevity

People with exceptional longevity have the same bad lifestyle habits as the rest of us, suggesting that their genes may interact with environmental factors differently than others. There’s not much you can do if you’re not one of the lucky ones born with superior genes. For the rest of us, a healthy lifestyle is still the best option to live longer.

To assess lifestyle factors including physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and diet in men and women with exceptional longevity, researchers conducted a retrospective cohort study of community dwelling Ashkenazi Jews with exceptional longevity defined living independently at age 95 and older. The Ashkenazi population descended from tens of thousands of Jews originating in the 15th Century who eventually moved to or were born in the U.S. before World War II.

The researchers compared 427 long-living individuals (mean 97.3 +/- 2.8, range 95 to 109; 74.6% women) and a birth cohort subset of 3,164 participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I (NHANES). Participants were surveyed about lifestyle at age 70 because it more likely represents their general adult lifestyle. Results appeared in the Aug. 3 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

People with exceptional longevity had similar mean body-mass index (men, 25.4 +/- 2.8 kg/m2 vs. 25.6 +/- 4.0 kg/m2, P=.63; women, 25.0 +/- 3.5 kg/m2 vs. 24.9 +/- 5.4 kg/m2; P=.90) to their peers in NHANES. They also had similar proportions of daily alcohol consumption (men, 23.9 vs. 22.4, P=.77; women, 12.1 vs. 11.3, P=.80), of regular physical activity (men: 43.1 vs. 57.2; P=.07; women: 47.0 vs. 44.1, P=.76), and of a low-calorie diet (men: 20.8 vs. 21.1, P=.32; women: 27.3 vs. 27.1, P=.14) as the NHANES I population.

The ever-smoking rates in men in NHANES I (74.5%) were higher than in the study population, a substantial proportion of men with exceptional longevity (59.6%) had smoked more than 100 cigarettes during their lifetime. In addition, male smokers in the study population reported an average standard deviation of 33.9 +/- 19.5 (range 1 to 85) years of smoking during their lifetime, with an average of 14.1+/- 11.5 (range 1 to 48) cigarettes per day. The smoking rates were similar in the two populations.

Researchers pointed out that studies of Seventh Day Adventists suggest that healthier lifestyle choices add up to eight years of longer life expectancy for anyone, and that genetics plays a role more in extreme longevity.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

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