Centenarians and Cholesterol

One medical factor stands out among centenarians: These long-lived men and women tend to avoid the illnesses of adulthood. Cancer, diabetes and heart disease all take a toll on the adult population; even if a person is afflicted with one of these illnesses and survives, he or she is likely to suffer some degree of reduced health for the rest of his or her life as a result.

While some diseases, such as certain types of cancer, appear to have a genetic underpinning, other diseases of adulthood can be mitigated -- or even prevented -- with certain healthy lifestyle steps. Many centenarians, whether by choice or through the influence of their home cultures, follow diets high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods and fatty meat. Seventh-day Adventists, for example, are encouraged to follow a vegetarian diet. This has led to many in that religious community living into their upper 80s or longer [source: Langreth].

Researchers and health advocates have long promoted the so-called Mediterranean Diet, a diet heavy on fruits, vegetables and whole grains that also includes healthy fats and protein from sources like fish and seafood. It only includes sweets, dairy products and fatty land-animal meats occasionally. Not only does the Mediterranean Diet appear to ward off buildup of LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol that plays a role in heart disease, but research also suggests it may help reduce the odds of developing Alzheimer's and other dementias that often appear in older age.

Centenarians also typically report that exercise is a regular part of their everyday routines. Even short but regular walks or light exercise at the gym can have significant long-term benefits, including lowered blood pressure and healthier cholesterol levels. And with heart disease still a leading killer of adults in the developed world, a person interested in joining the growing ranks of centenarians would be well advised to start -- and keep -- these heart-healthy habits.