To get to be really old, you have to eat right and exercise more! Right? Well, maybe not. Published this week in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society is a fascinating study looking at centenarians and comparing them to the rest of the population. Dr Barzilai at Yeshiva University looked at 477 Askenazi Jews were living independently and were over 95 years of age. Now, 75% of them were female so maybe the criteria ought to be changed to “To live to be 100, you better be a woman.” These 477 study subjects were compared to 3164 matched controls from the general population. All of them together made a pretty hefty cohort of folks who had lived into their 90s and remained quite healthy.
What they found was that the centenarians didn’t really have much different about them from the general population in terms of diet, activity, BMI or smoking. Smokers! Can you imagine? They found smokers in the really, really old group. The only really difference found was that the centenarians were less likely to be obese. (4.5% vs 16.2 % of the general population) That was it. But they did find some centenarians who were overweight.
They conclusion was that the populations didn’t differ by all that much, except for the obesity, and then it wasn’t a majority issue as only a small percentage of folks had it. Hence, the authors concluded that it must be more about how the individuals interacted with their environment than their specific lifestyle factors.
What could all this mean? Dr Barzilai correctly pointed out that the lesson from this cannot be that you can go out and smoke and eat bad foods because this study shows the futility of lifestyle changes. The vast majority of people benefit from reducing weight, exercising and stopping smoking. In fact, both the EPIC-Norfolk Population study from Europe and the Harvard Professional Lifestyle Factors study both showed that most of us will add 14 years to your life by stopping smoking, exercising, losing weight and “eating right”. Adding 14 years is a good concept, provided my brain is working for those 14 years.
What this study does show is that there is likely more pieces in the puzzle to be teased out. Reducing inflammation, taking Vitamin D, avoiding toxins are all not mentioned or measured in this study. The fact remains, many of us are living into our 90s. We would like to do it well.
WWW: What will work for me? I would like to still be gardening in my 90s. I would like to still be passionate about some hobby or vocation. I would like to know and recognize my family and loved ones. To do that, I’m putting my bets on exercise and eating well and avoiding diabetes. (This morning I passed a major hurdle in my exercise program: I beat the 12 minute mile. Whew. Down from 16 minutes)
Reference: Jr of American Geriatrics Society, August 5th, 2011, Circulation 2002, p 893-898 Vol 105