How to Be a Healthy Centenarian

Centenarians: A family affair?
Will great-grandma's good genes be passed on to future generations?
Will great-grandma's good genes be passed on to future generations?
Derek E. Rothchild/Photodisc/Getty Images

Will having a family of long-lived ancestors increase your likelihood of living to 100 and beyond? In short, there's a good chance that it will. Researchers through the years have identified families who, based on family disease histories and lifespans, are more likely to produce centenarians than other families. And as genetic research has become more advanced, scientists are starting to single out genes that may tie into the traits that promote long life: resistance to disease, a lack of genetic markers for heart disease and cancer, and low likelihood of mental illness or dementia.

That doesn't mean, however, that some of us have a free ticket into old age. Increasingly, research suggests that longevity is as much a factor of behavior as genetics. In other words, a person with a moderate genetic risk of heart disease who exercises and eats well may outlive a sedentary smoker who carries the genes that promote longevity. As in many aspects of life, genetics are likely only one of many factors that determine how long a person lives [source: New England Centenarian Study].

So are there secrets that will improve our odds of reaching 100 years and beyond? And how much of the human aging process can we actually control?

For starters, the habits of happy, healthy centenarians provide useful lessons for living a healthy life, regardless of age. Eat well. Exercise. Maintain friendships. Don't obsess about small setbacks or things beyond the scope of your control.

Another step toward living a long life is to stay on top of health issues that could become problems as you age. Review your family's medical history with your doctor, and work with him or her to establish a health plan that monitors for any health problems you may be predisposed to develop. If your family has a history of high blood pressure or heart disease, your doctor may want to monitor your cholesterol levels. If Alzheimer's or dementia is common in your family, your doctor may recommend steps that can help ward off the onset of these diseases [source: Park].

There are some factors you can't control, such as genetics or the toxic elements that may be present in your local environment. But what you can control -- diet, exercise and social activity -- can play a big role in helping you get the most out of every year of life you live.

For more information on centenarians, check out the links below.

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  • Blue Zones Web site. (May 11, 2011)
  • Boston University School of Medicine. "The New England Centenarian Study." July 3, 2010. (May 10, 2011)
  • Krach, Constance A. and Victoria A. Velkoff. "Centenarians in the United States." U.S. Census Bureau. July 1999. (May 8, 2011)
  • Langreth, Robert. "How To Live To 100." Forbes. April 7, 2009. (May 10, 2011)
  • Murphy, Zoe. "The mystery of Japan's missing centenarians." BBC News. Sept. 20, 2010. (May 9, 2011)
  • National Centenarian Awareness Project Web site. February 2011. (May 10, 2011)
  • NPR. "Can 'Blue Zones' Help Turn Back the Biological Clock?" June 8, 2008. (May 11, 2011)
  • Office for National Statistics. "Number of centenarians grows." Sept. 30, 2010. (May 11, 2011)
  • Okinawa Centenarian study. "Okinawa's Centenarians." (May 9, 2011)
  • Park, Alice. "How to Live 100 Years." TIME. Feb. 11, 2010. (May 8, 2011),28804,1963392_1963365_1963378,00.html
  • The Popular Science Monthly. "Secrets of the Centenarians." October 1894. (May 11, 2011)
  • Sedensky, Matt. "Number Of Centenarians Is Booming In U.S." The Huffington Post. April 26, 2011. (May 11, 2011)

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