Traditionally, we have assumed that the people who live long lives are those who take good care of themselves. Obviously, those who make healthy decisions tend to live longer than those who don’t. However, some people have a genetic gift that helps them live long, even after making unhealthy life decisions.
Before you get too excited, you need to realize how uncommon these people are. They make up less than 0.01% of the population. A new study issued by the Journal of American Geriatrics found that almost two thirds of men who lived to be 100 smoked. This was slightly lower than the 75% of the male population who did not live to be 100. Interestingly, centenarians also drank slightly more and were less likely to exercise.
The study was conducted by NilÂ Barzilai,Â director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. His study interviewedÂ 477 Ashkenazi Jewish subjects who lived near or past the centenarianÂ mark. Of the subjects, 25% were male and 75% were female. The study asked participants about their lifestyles around the age of 70. The study focused on Ashkenazi Jews because they have more uniform genetic traits than most other subjects. This makes it easier to identify specific genes that may contribute toÂ longevity. The downside is that the specificity of the subjects may bias the findings and they may not apply to other ethnic groups.
Dr. Barzilai says that centenarians told the researchers terrible stories about their life decisions. Diseases such as heart disease and cancer are problems any human may have to contend with at some point in their life. Centenarians are no exception, although they underwent those diseases much later in life than the general population.
The study provides a new perspective. However, it does not suggest that life decisions do not play a role in the lives of centenarians. Although centenarians may seem immune to the effects of aging, any decision is going to impact the rate at which they develop health problems. The effects may be more delayed and subtle, but they are still present. For example, one participant says his father was much healthier than his grandfather was at the same age. He says his own father made better life decisions, which he attributes to his longevity. Although some people may believe they are destined to live long, they shouldn’t expect drinking, smoking or eating poorly won’t impede their path to immortality.
This study comes as a surprise to many of us. However, many people with friends or relatives who lived to old ages can attest that they made poor life decisions. For example, Jeanne Calment lived to be 122 years old. She smoked from the age of 21 to 117, although she only smoked a couple cigarettes a day.
Additional research may shed more light on what makes centenarians different from the rest of us. Hopefully, scientists may be able to identify a specific genetic marker which explains why some people live over a century.