Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lifestyle and Exceptional Longevity

One's lifestyle obviously has an impact on one's health prospects. Smoking, one's diet, the frequency and intensity of exercise, etc. can increase and decrease one's risk of morbidity and mortality.

But will optimal lifestyle factors alone give people exceptional longevity (100+ years of life)? Are such environmental factors even necessary for achieving exceptional longevity? These are important questions for aging populations to consider as the planet is projected to have 2 billion persons over the age of 60 by the middle of the century. Delaying, and compressing, the onslaught of chronic diseases aging will afflict on human beings this century is one of the greatest moral imperatives of our day.

This interesting study in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society leads more support to the barrage of findings that genetics, rather than lifestyle, is a major determinate of exceptional longevity. The study examined a cohort of Ashkenazi Jews with exceptional longevity, defined as aged 95+. It compared this cohort's BMI, smoking, physical activity, and diet with the general American population. And these long-lived individuals did not live healthier lives than the average person. In fact, the male cohort of those with exceptional longevity had a lower rate of "regular exercise of moderate intensity" than the comparison cohort, and nearly 60% of the males with exceptional longevity had smoked more than 100 cigarettes during their lifetime. The study concludes: People with exceptional longevity are not distinct in terms of lifestyle factors from the general population, suggesting that people with exceptional longevity may interact with environmental factors differently than others. This requires further investigation.