Living Past 110 Years Old: What’s The Secret?
What’s the secret to living to 110 years old if there is a secret to the aging process? That’s what researchers James Clement and Parijita Mackey are trying to discover. Since 2011 they have been collecting information on supercentenarians, or those who have lived at least 110 years of life. And, their findings thus far were recently reported in Life Extension.
There are about 54,000 centenarians in the United States. These are individuals who have made to 100 years old. But, the number of individuals who make it to 110 years or more is much less – only about a dozen in the United States and about 70 worldwide. These supercentenarians certainly form a select group. Perhaps the secrets to healthy living and healthy aging can be gleaned by studying them and their health habits.
Clement and Mackey have been collecting DNA samples on individuals over a 105 and have interviewed supercentenarians throughout the world.
In a study in twins with a mean age of 70 it has been shown that 20% to 26% of longevity is related to genetics. This is good news as this means our lifestyles go much further than we may realize in determining our individual life-span.
However, to get to age 90 or older it appears the genetic factors play an increasingly important role. For instance, siblings of male supercentenarians are 17 times more likely to live to 100 than the general population.
Characteristics of SuperCentenarians
In interviewing these supercentenarians Clement and Mackey discovered that many of them lived normal lives. Some smoked and some drank their share of alcohol. And, only a few reported playing sports or exercising regularly.
These findings are probably contrary to what most of us may have thought. But, I think it illustrates the importance of genetics in this sub-group of individuals – individuals over 100 years old. These individuals most likely have very protective genes so that lifestyle (unless totally self-destructive) probably has less influence in this group. That does not mean that lifestyle does not have more significance in those of us who are mere mortals.
Many of these supercentenarians were described as being social, outgoing, and having a cheerful disposition. Many had little if any illness and never saw a doctor (maybe that’s the secret – stay away from us doctors). Being socially connected is important to good health.
Social Connection and Health
Roseto, Pennsylvania illustrates the importance of social connection and health and longevity. In the 1950’s it was recognized that few people in Roseto died of heart attacks – an epidemic in those days. Roseto is a community settled by Italian immigrants who have extended families and live in a close-knit community.
The population of Roseto had about a 35% lower rate of mortality as the general US population. Heart attacks were virtually unheard of in Roseto in men under age 55 and in men over 65 the rate of heart attacks was one half that for men in Roseto compared to the rest of the US population. Yet, their health habits were far from ideal. Their Italians meals were cooked with lard rather than healthier olive oil. Forty-one percent of their calories came from fat. Rosetans were heavy smokers with many overweight. Roseto was not a community of exercisers, either.
Then why so few heart attacks? Would they have even fewer heart attacks if they lived a cleaner lifestyle?
Many Rosetan households contain three generations and most individuals belonged to social clubs. In the town of 2,000 people were 22 civic clubs/organization. The elderly were treated with respect and treated as sages. There was essentially zero crime in Roseto. Researchers finally concluded the Rosetans created a protective social structure that provided great health benefits.
What’s the key to becoming a supercentenarian? Most likely the secret is a combination of genes, lifestyle, and social connection.
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