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Archive for Sunday, March 31, 2002

similar habits may aid lifespan

March 31, 2002

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It's official. Seniors will be glad to know they don't have to look for the Fountain of Youth anymore to enjoy a long life. Doctors have been saying for years that a certain lifestyle would help to prolong lives; now, scientists are beginning to prove that this is true.

The January 2002 "Harvard Health Letter" cites studies that reveal the lifestyles of people 100 or more years old. The centenarians studied didn't smoke or drink heavily. If they had smoked, they didn't do it very long. They didn't overeat and gained little or no weight as adults. Their diets had contained a lot of fruit and vegetables  as many as seven servings a day.

Centenarians seem to be people who got regular physical activity as long as they could possibly manage it. They continued such activities as climbing stairs and lifting small weights  helping slow the loss of muscle mass. They also kept their minds sharp with stimulating mental activity such as reading, painting, playing a musical instrument or continuing to work. These people kept a positive outlook on life and kept stress as low as possible. This ability to control emotional stress has been linked to both memory loss and heart disease. They are friendly and have close ties with their family and friends. They avoid isolating themselves, which leads to lower rates of depression, another factor in heart disease.

There are more than a dozen centenarian studies. The Harvard-based study started with 46 individuals aged 100 and older in the Boston area, but now is recruiting people throughout the United States.

Some family traits, such as eating habits and activity levels or other environmental factors that run in families seem to have an influence. Research is being done for genetic attributes. Researchers already know that some forms of a gene called apolipoprotein E increase the risk for Alzheimer's disease and cardiovascular disease. They also know that these are rare in centenarians. They are also doing research on a section of chromosome 4 that may contribute to a long life. They feel that genes could contribute in the people studied because they protected them against the infectious disease of the early 20th century.

An Italian study reports that healthy centenarians had exceptionally high blood levels of vitamins A and E compared with healthy younger adults. The thought is that perhaps vitamin-rich blood may strengthen the immune system of centenarians and defend them against damage from oxygen-free radicals, the molecules that some researchers believe are the principal cause of aging.

The number of persons living to be 100 or older is consistently growing. In 2000, there were 72,000 in the United States. By 2010, the number is predicted to rise to 131,000, growing to 843,000 by 2050. In fact, demographers now are counting persons 110 and over  whom they label "supercentenarians."

This isn't to say that being a centenarian is ideal. While people in a New England study could live and take care of themselves well at home at age 95, the number dropped to 30 percent by age 102. Possibly as much as 72 percent of centenarians have cardiovascular disease. Sixty percent have urinary incontinence, and 54 percent have osteoarthritis of a major joint. In the long run, most centenarians still will die from heart disease, but many will live longer than otherwise because of modern medicines that control cholesterol and hypertension.

Maybe living to be 100 isn't your goal, but following the advice and the lifestyles of these aged citizens can help you have some healthy extra years that you might not have otherwise.

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