Food and Exercise Aren't the Only Keys to Living Past 90

Luck, in the form of genetics, plays a major roll in longevity, new research is making clear
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 21, 2023 8:30 AM CDT
Food and Exercise Aren't the Only Keys to Living Past 90
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While trend pieces that describe which foods to eat or the magic number of steps to walk each day may help curb disease and increase longevity, a key factor to living a very long life isn't within our control. Per the Wall Street Journal, research on aging increasingly shows that living past age 90 is linked to genetics. "Some people have this idea: 'If I do everything right, diet and exercise, I can live to be 150,'" says Robert Young of the Gerontology Research Group. "And that's really not correct." Genetics aids longevity as people grow older: It accounts for 25% of our ability to reach age 90, 50% to reach age 100, and 75% to reach age 106, according to Boston University medical expert Thomas Perls.

But that doesn't mean lifestyle and modern medicine don't influence longevity. The Census Bureau projects that 109,000 centenarians live in America today—60% more than 10 years ago, when it was 65,000. Those trusty food, exercise, and diet articles help inform people on what can help them live longer (and healthier) lives. Mental health also plays a role, including one's outlook on life and strong connections with family and friends. "Keeping in good relationships could be one key to health span," says neuropsychologist Amanda Cook Maher. That said, people who avoid age-related diseases such as cancer or dementia are more likely to have long lives. Untangling exactly which genes aid longevity is a little tricky, but variants or traits that protect us by repairing DNA or resisting Alzheimer's disease are up there.

Medical News Today, meanwhile, takes a look at what blood tests have also revealed about longevity. Centenarians tended to have average to lower levels of blood biomarkers like creatinine (a factor in kidney health), glucose, and uric acid. The latter suggests fewer problems with issues such as gout or kidney stones. "It is difficult to say if the absence of extreme values point towards lifestyle. But the findings of overall more favorable values for centenarians, and the fact that these markers are related to diet and lifestyle, it is possible—or perhaps even likely—that such factors have an impact," said researcher Dr. Shunsuke Murata. The wild card is the interaction with genetic factors. (Do women really outlive men? It may not be that simple.)

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