What do you need to do to live to be 95 and beyond?

We all know the guidance: exercise, eat well, don’t smoke, etc… but is that really all it takes to live to be 95 and beyond? Apparently not. There is a new study that throws some interesting light on all this.

It was conducted by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and was published, August 3, 2011 in the online edition of Journal of American Geriatrics Society entitled “Lifestyle Factors of People with Exceptional Longevity“.

Here is a quick fly-by …


To assess lifestyle factors including physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and dietary habits in men and women with exceptional longevity.


Four hundred seventy-seven individuals (mean 97.3±2.8, range 95-109; 74.6% women) and a subset of participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) I (n=3,164) representing the same birth cohort as a comparison group.


A trained interviewer administrated study questionnaires to collect information on lifestyle factors and collected data on anthropometry.


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.

Other items of interest to note from all this is that the Centenarians were less likely to be obese with only 4.5% of men in the older group compared to the 12% of the other male subjects. A similar pattern was found among women. However, one finding that came as no surprise from the study was that about a third of the centenarians reported having many long-lived family members and relatives–previous studies of Ashkenazi Jews have helped locate a gene variant in the population that causes significantly elevated levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol in the centenarians that appeared to confer resistance Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

Now that last discovery is potentially good news for the rest of us, because there is a drug currently being developed that has the same effect on HDL as that particular gene.

“In previous studies of our centenarians, we’ve identified gene variants that exert particular physiology effects, such as causing significantly elevated levels of HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol,” said Dr. Barzilai, who is also professor of medicine and of genetics at Einstein. “This study suggests that centenarians may possess additional longevity genes that help to buffer them against the harmful effects of an unhealthy lifestyle…We’re identifying genes that play a role in aging and then we can design drugs to mimic their actions.”

This is not a done deal, and while this study, involving a few hundred centenarians, does indeed suggest that one’s genes may play more of an important role in living an exceptionally long life than one’s way of living, it is not justification for you to abandon a healthy life-sytle. The folks running the study agree.

Although this study demonstrates that centenarians can be obese, smoke and avoid exercise, those lifestyle habits are not good choices for most of us who do not have a family history of longevity,” said Dr. Barzilai. “We should watch our weight, avoid smoking and be sure to exercise, since these activities have been shown to have great health benefits for the general population, including a longer lifespan.

Further Reading

  • O’ Connor, Anahad. “Centenarians Have Plenty of Bad Habits Too.” The New York Times Health. The New York Times Company, 4 Aug. 2011.
  • Newman, Kimberly. “Lifestyles of the Old and Healthy Defy Expectations.EurkAlert! AAAS, the Science Society, 3 Aug. 2011.

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