A 50-year study of men born in 1913 thinks it has some insight on what it takes to reach 100 years of age. Despite what some centenarians claim, it isn’t smoking a cigar once a day, eating fried foods or failing to exercise. In fact, the study, published in the Scandinavian Cardiovascular Journal, found reaching 100 years of age was related to non-smoking, mother’s age at death, social class and previous physical working capacity. Researchers conducted the first surveys of 855 men beginning in 1963 and followed up with the men when they reached age 60, 65, 75, 80 and 100. Only 10 of the original participants continued to live at the time the study was stopped. Twenty-seven percent of the original group lived to 80 and 13 percent lived to 90. Slightly more than 1 percent made it to 100 years old. According to the study, those who died after 80 years of age died predominantly of heart disease (42 percent), infectious disease (20 percent), followed by stroke, cancer, pneumonia and other causes. Of those over 80, 23 percent were diagnosed with some type of dementia. Of the 100-year olds, two dropped out due to dementia, one for personal reasons. What the remaining seven had in common was that none of them smoked, they all had good temporal and spatial cognition, wore hearing aids, were slim and had good postures and all used walkers. As a bonus, they were all clinically healthy, satisfied with their circumstances and pleased to be living were they were according to one of the researchers.
A study closer to home was a survey of papers. That review found 281 genetic markers that were mostly (61 percent) accurate in predicting who is 100 years old. Those markers point to 130 genes, which have been shown to play roles in Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, cancers, high blood pressure etc. Centenarians had just as many genetic variants as people in the general population leading the researchers to suggest the existence of longevity associated variants that counter the negative effects of the gene variants. People who live long lives don’t fail to get diseases, they fail to succumb to those diseases, have diseases for shorter periods of time and have markedly delayed onset of age-related diseases. Another paper suggests that a good predictor of making it to 100-years of age or older lies in remaining functionally independent until at least age 93.
Living to 100 or 150 for that matter isn’t the goal. Living a long, healthy life is the goal. Staying healthy right up to the end of life is the best predictor of whether you’ll need assistance with Activities of Daily Living and whether you’ll remain independent. Independence should be everyone’s goal for several reasons. Not only do you have more control over your life, you have more control over how you live that life, how others treat you and where you’ll get to live that life. Frankly, it costs less too. You want to end your life like the seven centenarians in the first study so that at the end you’re satisfied with your circumstances and pleased to be living.