August 04, 2011
Centenarians: Diet, Habits No Better Than Rest Of Us

Highly virtuous living key to hitting 100? Nope. Those living for a century might just have better genes.

August 3, 2011 (Bronx, NY) People who live to 95 or older are no more virtuous than the rest of us in terms of their diet, exercise routine or smoking and drinking habits, according to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

Their findings, published today in the online edition of Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, suggests that "nature" (in the form of protective longevity genes) may be more important than "nurture" (lifestyle behaviors) when it comes to living an exceptionally long life. Nir Barzilai, M.D., the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair of Aging Research and director of the Institute for Aging Research at Einstein, was the senior author of the study.

It seems unlikely you can add decades to your life expectancy by diet and exercise. We really need gene therapies, cell therapies, cures for cancer, the ability to grow replacement organs, and other rejuvenation therapies.

At age 70 the long lived had lifestyles not much different than others at that same time of life.

Overall, people with exceptional longevity did not have healthier habits than the comparison group in terms of BMI, smoking, physical activity, or diet. For example, 27 percent of the elderly women and an equal percentage of women in the general population attempted to eat a low-calorie diet. Among long-living men, 24 percent consumed alcohol daily, compared with 22 percent of the general population. And only 43 percent of male centenarians reported engaging in regular exercise of moderate intensity, compared with 57 percent of men in the comparison group.

But just because genes protect centenarians does not mean the vast majority of us can be oblivious to our diets and lifestyles.

"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."

You can do damage by the way you live. But aging still gradually ravages your body regardless of what choices you make.

Suppose you make it to 100 and beyond. What will kill you as you near the 114 year wall? Good chance it'll be Senile Systemic Amyloidosis (thanks Lou Pagnucco). Deposits of transthyretin protein (one of the large amyloid family of proteins) build up in the heart or other locations. Whether this is due to inflammation, an immune system gone awry, or perhaps mutations in control mechanisms for amyloid protein production remains to be discovered.

Since most of us will need assorted rejuvenation therapies (gene therapies, stem cells, replacement organs) to even reach 100 I wonder whether those of us who reach 100 by use of biotechnology will then develop Senile Systemic Amyloidosis? Or will the therapies needed to get us that far make us different enough from the natural centenarians that we won't develop amyloidosis?

Update: Seventh Day Adventists provide the evidence that diet and lifestyle really do matter.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 August 04 09:53 PM  Aging Studies


Comments
bbartlog said at August 5, 2011 7:26 AM:

'only 43 percent of male centenarians reported engaging in regular exercise of moderate intensity, compared with 57 percent of men in the comparison group.'

So in order not to deviate *too* far from orthodoxy, they take this surprising result and tell us blandly 'habits no better than the rest of us', as if that were an accurate gloss of this finding. Hey, it's actually interesting that centenarians exercise *significantly less* than those who don't make it to 100. It looks like those who are naturally resistant to heart disease (or whatever diseases of aging exercise is supposed to protect us against) may be better off living as slowly as possible. But because the authors are public health employees first and intellectually curious scientists second, they don't show any sign of having noticed this at all. Wouldn't want to risk people getting the wrong ideas, you know.
The drinking percentages are also interesting, though I don't know whether 24 vs 22 percent reaches significance. I remember being surprised on reading brief bios of a number of very long-lived people at how many of them reported moderately heavy drinking to an advanced age.

Elmer J. Fudd said at August 5, 2011 9:00 AM:

"Among long-living men, 24 percent consumed alcohol daily, compared with 22 percent of the general population."

That's what they're admitting to.

I've heard that doctors have an informal rule of thumb when gauging their patients' alcohol consumption: whatever the patient says, triple it. IOW, "2 drinks a day" equals 6. This sort of makes sense, IMO. When people -- especially men -- go to doctors, they don't want to be lectured or talked down to about their bad habits. Look, lack of knowledge about what "health professionals" consider healthy is not a big problem. Most people know, they just choose to ignore it, that's all.

The medical industry also says that 10% of the population have a problem with alcohol. My own observation is that it's probably much higher than that, but then again as with so many other things, the definition of "problem drinking" is constantly being lowered. I would guess that by today's standards, most of our parents' and grandparents' generation had a "problem" because having a cocktail or two at a business lunch or before dinner was considered normal.

Ellen said at August 5, 2011 10:48 AM:

"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."

They probably would have been fired if they *hadn't* included this. But I'm getting tired of research that says you don't have to worry about something (say sodium) "but don't think that means you don't have to keep your sodium intake down."

In said at August 5, 2011 1:36 PM:

"Their findings, published today in the online edition of Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, suggests that "nature" (in the form of protective longevity genes) may be more important than "nurture" (lifestyle behaviors)... "

Oversimplified balderdash. What this study fails to note is that current day centenarians benefit from having been nurtured to adulthood in an era when people actually ate real, unadulterated food and had more balanced lives.

Of course genetics matter for longevity, but there are lots of reasons to think that how one is nurtured when when young is more important for health later in life than current habits. This is why each generation of Americans is less healthy than the previous one was (as our lifestyles further deviate from consonance with human nature).

In said at August 5, 2011 1:43 PM:

That said I agree it is probably difficult for most adults to add decades to their lives. It would probably require a low chronic stress lifestyle combined with various other health enhancing therapies and practices. I could mention some but use your imagination.

I do think that there are some individuals that could add decades to their lives through lifestyle means, but that is mostly because they have conditions that would kill them sooner otherwise. Ray Kurzweil is an example.

fb0252 said at August 5, 2011 2:06 PM:

blind luck as a factor in longevity?

Randall Parker said at August 5, 2011 9:45 PM:

fb0252,

Blind luck? Yes. Aging damages different parts of different cells in a continuing process. Get enough damage of the right combination to DNA in a single cell and it will go cancerous and you'll die. Take that same set of damages and spread it across several cells (so different parts of it in different cells) and no one cell will get all the mutational damage needed to go cancerous. So then you won't die.

Because multiple things go wrong in the same cell or the same organ some people die. Others live longer because their damage from aging is, by chance, more evenly distributed.

Embryonic development has the same sort of thing going on. Embryos develop imperfectly. If the imperfections are concentrated some organ will be too weak and malfunctional and you'll die sooner as a result. Make the imperfections more evenly distributed and you'll live longer.

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