Living to 100 May Rely More on Good Genes Than Lifestyle, Researchers Find

People who live 95 years or more are as likely as the rest of the population to smoke, drink and eat an unhealthy diet, suggesting their survival to that ripe age is based on genetics and not lifestyle, researchers found.

Scientists studied 477 Ashkenazi Jews who were 95 years and older, picking that population for their similar genetic makeup. Along with the lifestyle findings, the researchers discovered shared genetic mutations that may have helped the group survive, and could be the basis for further scientific study, said Nir Barzilai, lead author for the study published today in the journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

One of these mutations controls a protein known as CETP, or cholesteryl ester transfer protein, which raised the amount of beneficial cholesterol in their body, the report said. Another variant affected metabolism.

“To be 100, you need genetic help,” said Barzilai, director of the Longevity Gene Project at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, in a telephone interview. “They didn’t do anything special as a group.”

The average age of Barzilai’s group was 97, and most participants from the regular population died at the age of 75. Barzilai and researchers used interviews and blood tests to determine the health of the participants’ lifestyles.

People who live to age 100 or older make up about 0.1 percent of the 40 million U.S. adults ages 65 and older, according to the Census Bureau.

Fatter, More Alcohol

The elderly group showed higher rates of daily alcohol consumption and fattier diets than 3,000 people who died earlier and were interviewed at an average of 70, studied in a previous report. About the same percentage of people in each group were smokers or overweight, according to the study.

Among long-living men, 24 percent consumed alcohol daily, compared with 22 percent of the 70-year-olds, and 43 percent regularly exercised, compared with 57 percent of the younger men. Of elderly women, 35 percent attempted a low-fat diet, compared with 39 percent of the 70-year-old group.

“You want everybody to be 100,” Barzilai said. “The medical cost of that last two years of life of someone who dies at 100 is a third of the last two years of life of somebody who dies at 70.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Oliver Renick in New York at orenick@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale in New York at rgale5@bloomberg.net.

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