People who live longer die better

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to live to 100? Some people say they don’t want to. And I think it’s because they picture themselves feeble and sickly — like a prisoner in their own body.

But that’s not actually what it’s like for the lucky .0173 percent of people who reach the 100 year mark.

It may seem logical to assume that if you live to be extremely old that you just get more years filled with the foibles of old age — declining cognitive health, chronic diseases and a poor quality of life…

But the latest research on centenarians shows that this just isn’t so.

Centenarians actually get to enjoy those extra years of their life — the ones that most of us miss out on — because they don’t tend to die from long, protracted illnesses. They keep the dying process short and sweet by staying healthy until the very end, according to a research study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

“Most people struggle with an ever-increasing burden of disease and disability as they age,” said study leader Nir Barzilai, M.D., professor of medicine and of genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, director of Einstein’s Institute for Aging Research, and attending physician at Montefiore Health System. “But we found that those who live exceptionally long lives have the additional benefit of shorter periods of illness — sometimes just weeks or months — before death.”

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The study looked at 3,000 centenarians and near-centenarians and closely examined their health history in relation to their lifespan. What they found was that even though centenarians weren’t immune to serious diseases like cancer, they didn’t develop these diseases until the ripe old age of 97 for men and 99 for women on average. If you compare that to non-centenarians — where cancer diagnosis occurred at 67 for men and 74 for women on average — the difference is remarkable.

Centenarians experienced a much later onset of diseases like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, osteoporosis and stroke too… which means the long-held belief that the older you get, the sicker you get doesn’t always hold water.

So if the thought of adding a few healthy decades to your life sounds appealing, it’s time to put your plan for attaining centenarian status into action.  I’ll admit that genetics play a huge role, but lifestyle choices also really influence your health… and may even determine when you celebrate your last birthday.

Here are some of the lifestyle characteristics centenarians are known for:

  • Staying well-connected to family and friends. Most centenarians live with other people and have close ties with friends and family. This isn’t all that surprising considering an active social life is linked to better physical and mental health.
  • Being non-smokers. A 50-year aging study conducted by the University of Gothenburg tracked the health and lifespan of 855 men. Needless to say none of the men that lived to 100 were smokers.
  • Staying slim. In the same 50-year aging study, researchers found that centenarians maintained a slim physique until the end of their life. And you know what you need to do to do that — practice the lifestyle of the mindlessly slim… exercise and eat right, of course.
  • Mental and emotional resilience. A 2010 study on centenarians found that a positive mental attitude and the ability to deal with stress is a more important sign of eventual centenarianism than physical health markers like blood pressure and blood sugar.
  • Keeping inflammation levels down. A 2015 Japanese study found that centenarians and their offspring had noticeably lower levels of inflammation than the rest of us. Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to keep your inflammation levels down, like eating anti-inflammatory foods, exercising and taking up a meditation practice.

If you give these tips a try, you just might just become a member of a very exclusive club — one we all hope to join someday — the centenarians.

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Sources:
  1. Ismail, L. Nussbaum, P. Sebastiani, S. Andersen, T. Perls, N. Barzilai, S. Milman. “Compression of Morbidity Is Observed Across Cohorts with Exceptional Longevity.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2016.
  2. “How Many People Live to 100?” Genealogy In Time Magazine. http://www.genealogyintime.com.
  3. “What People Who Live to 100 Have in Common.” U.S. News & World Report. http://money.usnews.com. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  4. Wilhelmsen, M. Dellborg, L. Welin, K. Svärdsudd. “Men born in 1913 followed to age 100 years.” Scandinavian Cardiovascular Journal, 2015; 49 (1): 45.
  5. W. Poon, P. Martin, A. Bishop, J. Cho, et al. “Understanding Centenarians’ Psychosocial Dynamics and Their Contributions to Health and Quality of Life.” Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research, 2010; 2010: 1.

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.