August 4, 2011

Living Long Doesn’t Mean Healthier Habits

(Ivanhoe Newswire) "“ The U.S. Census Bureau estimates nearly 425,000 people aged 95 and older live in the United States. A new study has found that when it comes to living an exceptionally long life, people who live to be over the age of 95 or older are no more honorable than anyone else in terms of their diet, exercise routine, smoking and drinking habits.

The researchers interviewed 477 Ashkenazi Jews who were living independently and were 95 and older, 75 percent were women. Descended from a small founder group, Ashkenazi Jews are more genetically uniform than other populations; making it easier to spot gene differences that are present.

The participants were asked about their lifestyles at the age of 70. They answered questions about their weight and height to calculate their body mass index (BMI). They also provided information about their alcohol consumption, smoking habits, physical activity, and whether they ate a low-calorie, low-fat or low-salt diet.

To compare these people with the general population, the researchers used data from 3,164 people who were examined between 1971 and 1975, who had been born around the same time as the centenarians, which are people who are at least a hundred years of age.

Overall, people with exceptional longevity did not have healthier habits than the comparison group in terms of BMI, smoking, physical activity, or diet. Twenty-seven 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.

"In previous studies of our centenarians, we've identified gene variants that exert particular physiology effects, such as causing significantly elevated levels of HDL or 'good' cholesterol. This study suggests that centenarians may possess additional longevity genes that help to buffer them against the harmful effects of an unhealthy lifestyle," Nir Barzilai, M.D., senior study author, and director of the Institute for Aging Research at Einstein, was quoted saying.

However, the research found that overweight centenarians tended to have lower rates of obesity than the control group. Although male and female centenarians were just as likely to be overweight as their counterparts in the general population, the centenarians were significantly less likely to become obese. While longevity genes may protect centenarians from bad habits, healthy lifestyle choices remain critical for the rest of the population.

"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," Dr. Barzilai said.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, August 3, 2011.