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What’s the secret to a very long life?

Written by Diane Archer

Today 110 million Americans are over 50 years old. And, half of people born today are expected to live past 100. What’s the secret to a very long life? Here are a few.

Harvard Health offers the classic advice for living a long and healthy life: Don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight, exercise your mind and body, engage socially, get preventive care and visit the dentist regularly. Also, take the medications your doctor prescribes to control chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Professor Nir Barzilai, Albert Einstein School of Medicine, gives a lot more weight to genes than to a healthy lifestyle as cause for a person’s long life. Barzilai studies differences between chronological and biological age — actual years of life relative to a body’s health. He believes that people whose chronological age is much greater than their biological age hold the information to what it takes to live longer. 

Barzilai has found that many people who live past 100 did not lead especially healthy lifestyles. One group of siblings, who all lived past 100, included a man who worked in a high-pressure job past 100, and his sister who smoked for 90 years. Other people who lived past 100, whom Barzilai studied, were overweight, did not exercise, and did not eat particularly healthy meals.

Barzilai says that what centenarians all have in common is a “longevity gene,” a gene that resists aging. And, because of this longevity gene, Barzilai believes it is possible to erase cellular aging in people.

An NIH-funded study, the Longevity Project, found that cautious and less happy people lead longer lives than the happiest people. The more cautious people took fewer risks, which extended their lives and kept them healthier.

Yet another study out of the University of Washington found that having a greater sense of purpose led to a longer life.

Wealth also appears to be a significant factor in living a long life. The US Government Accountability Office just published a report finding that wealthy people tend to live longer than poor people.

Of course, living longer should not be a goal in and of itself. We should be careful about wishing to live longer if that means being old and unhealthy. Leading a healthy life may be a better goal and also likely leads to a longer life.

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