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Lookin’ Good In Those Genes!

People all over the world are living longer.  Worldwide, few people reach the age of 100, and those who do are often celebrated for their longevity.  Only one out of every six thousand people will blow out the candles on their 100th birthday cake. Even fewer people  (one out of every seven million) have lived beyond age 100 into their 110s or 120s. Currently, the United States and Japan are home to the largest numbers of people aged 100 or older world wide.

But how can you live such a long life?

Part of the credit can go to the improved medical care available after World War II, especially in the United States. Resources like Medicare and nursing facilities specialized in elder care have undoubtedly helped boost those numbers. Still, health care is likely only one small piece of the puzzle.

Such longevity has often proved puzzling to the general public and researchers alike.  Some experts believe that diet and exercise are key to a long, healthy life.  Over 40,000 people over the age of 100 currently live in Japan, quadruple the number from a decade ago. The large population of centenarians and super centenarians in Okinawa, Japan highlights the importance of diet to lifespan. In Okinawa, the standard diet is high in fish, soy, seaweed, and other vegetables, reducing obesity, diabetes, and other diseases.

In Vilcabamba, Ecuador, there is yet another group of centenarians. Allegedly, one man lived for 127 years, and his relatives attribute his longevity to the village’s traditional diet.  Vilcabamba natives drink traditional horchata tea, and low-cholesterol, low fat diets.  The elderly also remain physically active: according to a Boston Globe article, one 92 year old man stopped working the bean fields a year before the reporter’s visit.  The elderly in Vilcabamba continued working, walking, and even romancing well into later life, keeping both minds and bodies active.

Celebrating Longevity: More Active People Living to 100
Celebrating Longevity: More Active People Living to 100

So all you have to do to live to 100 is eat right and exercise?

Not so fast.  Recently, researchers have been looking at a link between certain genes and old age. In Vilcabamba, where the elderly flourish, genes may play a huge part in the story: marriage was often limited to the small village, where many people are related.    Jeanne Calment, the woman who lived to a record 122 years, had parents who lived into their 90s.

Recently, researchers conducted a study which revealed genes related to longevity.  By looking at a group of 150 gene variants, researchers were able to distinguish centenarians from non centenarians over 75% of the time. According to the study, some of the participants’ genes were linked to the delay in cancer, heart disease, and other diseases related to old age. Still, there was no specific “long life” gene; rather, a combination of the 150 genes tended to appear in the centenarians. Still, researchers highlighted the importance of healthy lifestyles, especially exercise and diet, in connection to living long.

Undoubtedly, genetics plays a large role in determining how long you’ll live. However, genetics isn’t everything.  Some studies report that genes determine up to 30 percent of your longevity likelihood.  The environment in which you live has a strong impact on your life span.  Finally, how you fuel your body ultimately has the greatest say.  Eating a healthful diet and remaining active—both mentally and physically—is still crucial in living a long, fulfilling life.

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