Healthy lifestyle plays the biggest role in a long life span, researchers find
So granny didn’t live to be 101? Not to worry. Longevity is not necessarily a family trait.
We may live long regardless of our genes, according to researchers who studied the world’s oldest man — he made it to 114 — only to conclude that diet, exercise and personal contentment have more to do with survival than the mysterious workings of DNA.
Joan Riudavets was no geezer — still riding a bike, tending an orchard and sporting snappy Lacoste cardigans after 10 decades of optimistic life on the same street in the same village on the same sunny Mediterranean island.
“Keep moving, keep going forward,” he once told journalists eager to hear his secrets of long life.
“Live calmly and treat other people well,” Mr. Riudavets said, adding that he still liked to dance the fandango and have a shot of sherry. He died in 2004.
This supercentenarian drew the interest of Dr. Adolfo Diez Perez, a geneticist at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona who studied the bone mass and analyzed the genetics of Mr. Riudavets, along with his 101-year-old brother, two daughters and a nephew — all octogenarians.
The research team found no variations in LRP5 — the gene associated with longevity — in any of them. They eventually concluded that family traits most likely had nothing to do with the long-lived group.
“The results of the research do not rule out the possibility that other genetic mutations could positively influence longevity,” the study said, ultimately crediting “a Mediterranean diet, the temperate climate of the island, a lack of stress and regular physical activity.”
The research was published in the Journal of Gerontology, an academic publication.
“We’ve forgotten this kind of lifestyle. But our grandparents would recognize it,” said Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” which was published last month.
“There’s something magical about living to three digits, so to speak. These people become great icons for good living. Genes may account for 10 to 20 percent of how long we live, but the biggest vari- able is lifestyle. We may not all make it to 100, but the average American can live a dozen extra years if they just optimize good lifestyle,” Mr. Buettner said.
“This gentleman could walk, bike, visit an orchard. He had a daily reason to go out and keep moving and keep social. All of us can at least emulate that,” Mr. Buettner said.
His own research — funded by National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging — has revealed five longevity “pockets” around the planet where people live long, healthy lives. Mr. Buettner found that cheerfulness plays a definitive role in spots such as Singapore, Denmark and Sardinia where productive aging is common. A kind of tribal sociability, sensible eating and strategic calm moments also help.
He leaves for Tahiti next week to investigate what may well be the sixth “pocket.”
The medical community has a longstanding interest in the field. Founded in 1992, the Chicago-based American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine has grown to a membership of 20,000 physicians and researchers who condone sensible lifestyles, along with powerful diagnostic tests, appropriate interventions and the practice of hormone replacement for men and women.
Longevity pays off, the group says, citing a University of Chicago Graduate School of Business study, which calculated that the U.S. economy would enjoy an extra $2.4 trillion a year if average citizens lived an extra six years, due primarily to increased productivity and lessened medical care costs.