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Have you ever wondered why some people live to 100, healthy to the very end?
Most of us are lucky just to make it through our fifties before developing multiple health conditions that could make reaching 80 or 90 a challenge at best.
Well, we may finally have the answer…
According to research by a team of scientists from Boston University School of Medicine, the secret to joining the ranks of centenarians is an incredibly powerful immune system…
Youthful immunity into extreme old age
It’s not something we think about often, except when cold and flu season rolls around and we need a secret weapon to stay healthy, but your immune system plays a pivotal role in the function of the 30 trillion cells that make up your body.
Sadly, for most of us, a natural age-related decline in immune system function leaves us wide open to threats.
Because centenarians not only live longer but also experience delays in age-related diseases, scientists have theorized that their immune systems remain youthfully functional into extreme old age.
It’s a theory those Boston researchers decided to put to the test, assembling the largest dataset that delved into the differences between centenarian immune cells and those possessed by the rest of us.
Specifically, the team focused on sequencing peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) — a category of immune cells circulating in the blood of centenarians versus people of other age groups to evaluate cell composition and activity change with age.
And sure enough, centenarians seem to have exceptional immune system function…
Better immunity for a longer life
The research confirmed that people who live to be 100 or more possess distinct immune cell type composition and activity and are blessed with highly functional immune systems that have successfully adapted to a history of sickness allowing for exceptional longevity.
According to the researchers, when people are exposed to infections and recover from them, their immune system learns to adapt. But this ability to respond declines as we age.
Yet, for those rare individuals, immune system decline is not in the cards.
As study senior author, Paola Sebastiani, PhD, explains, “The immune profiles that we observed in the centenarians confirms a long history of exposure to infections and capacity to recover from them and provide support to the hypothesis that centenarians are enriched for protective factors that increase their ability to recover from infections.”
Because of this, the researchers believe that “Centenarians, and their exceptional longevity, provide a ‘blueprint’ for how we might live more productive, healthful lives.”
How can you keep your immune system functioning like a younger version of yourself? Well, previous research has shown that exercise can certainly help…
It has a unique effect on the thymus, a gland in your chest that produces T cells (those first-line defense cells that attack pathogens). The thymus tends to shrink into adulthood and produce fewer T cells. But researchers found that older endurance cyclists were producing the same level of T-cells as adults in their 20s!
Compared to the people who didn’t exercise, had a lowered immune system and were at higher risk for infections, the older cyclists had immune systems that were still capable of putting up a strong fight.
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