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What Health Factors Could Lead to Exceptional Longevity?

Swedish scientists say people of exceptional longevity have normal values of many blood biomarkers earlier in their lives.

People are living longer…much longer! Since 1950, the number of people who have celebrated their 100th birthday has doubled every decade. Experts project that over the next 30 years the number of centenarians will quintuple. What are some of the factors associated with such exceptional longevity?

Swedish researchers have been collecting biomarkers from a large population for 35 years (Geroscience, Sept. 19, 2023). They focused their research primarily on markers of metabolism and inflammation. To accomplish this, they collected laboratory data between 1985 and 1996 from a cohort of nearly 800,000 individuals. The initial study is dubbed the AMORIS study, for Apolipoprotein MOrtality RISk. With the data linked to national patient registers, investigators could follow people born between 1893 and 1920 until they reached 100 or died trying.

Biomarkers Linked to Exceptional Longevity:

The analysis of 12 different biomarkers derived from blood tests found ten that seemed associated with exceptional longevity. By and large, those who eventually blew out 100 candles on their cake had values that were neither high nor low. However, centenarians had lower levels of glucose, creatinine and uric acid in their bloodstreams at the time of measurement than others. People in this cohort were between 65 and 92 at that point. Somewhat surprisingly, people who survived beyond their 100th birthday had higher levels of iron and cholesterol than people who never made it to that ripe old age. The study does not offer enough information to tell us when striving for the lowest possible cholesterol level becomes counterproductive.

Are There Secrets to Get You to 100?

The scientists did not collect data on lifestyle or diet. Consequently, we don’t know whether a specific exercise plan or eating pattern contributed to a healthy biomarker profile. However, this research is consistent with earlier findings.

Specifically, the healthy old seem to have no better idea than the rest of us what factors are most helpful. In one study, the investigators interviewed 477 Ashkenazi Jews who were at least 95 years old and living on their own (Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, online Aug. 3, 2011). The seniors answered questions about their diet and lifestyle at age 70, including weight, alcohol consumption, physical activity and smoking habits. The investigators compared the results to those from similar questions asked of people born at around the same time. Those people participated in a national nutrition and health study in the early 1970s.

Overall, there was very little difference in healthy habits between the nonagenarians and those in the regular population who presumably did not survive to such an old age. The scientists concluded that centenarians probably benefit from exceptional longevity genes. Even though there may be no secret, the rest of us would do well to follow a healthy lifestyle. We can do that by exercising, eating sensibly, maintaining a healthy weight and engaging with friends and family. Some or all of these practices may help us maintain the metabolic balance that shows up as moderate biomarkers in our blood.

Learn More:

You may wish to listen to some of the interviews we have done with experts on healthy aging. These include a podcast with Erin Sharoni on How to Delay Aging.  You may also be interested in Show 1117: What Can Chinese Centenarians Teach You About Long Life?

More recently, we interviewed Dr. Gladys McGarey, a centenarian physician, in Show 1345: Secrets to Living a Long Healthy Life.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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