Magazine article The Futurist

How to Live beyond 100: A Very Long Life Is One Part Nature and One Part Nurture

Magazine article The Futurist

How to Live beyond 100: A Very Long Life Is One Part Nature and One Part Nurture

Article excerpt

Your odds of living to celebrate your one-hundredth birthday are higher than ever, says University of Georgia gerontologist Leonard Poon.

Adults aged 100 or more are a fast-growing population group throughout the industrialized world, Poon notes. Most industrialized countries now average one centenarian per 10,000 residents, but the figure is moving toward one in 5,000.

"One can observe over the last century that the oldest of our population increased from a negligible number to an appreciable proportion," Poon writes in Aging, Biotechnology, and the Future.

Poon gives the average 60-year-old a 1% chance and the average 80-year-old a 0.5% chance of becoming a centenarian.

Life-span is 30% determined by genes and 70% determined by environment, according to Poon. In 1992, he compared a group of centenarians with groups of adults in their 80s and 60s, finding a common thread of healthy living among most of the 100-or-older group: They had exercised regularly, eaten breakfast daily, consumed substantial amounts of carotenoids and Vitamin A, and refrained from smoking and abuse of alcohol.

"Human attitudes and choices may underlie the secrets of longevity," Poon suggests.

Many centenarians, however, reach their ripe old ages despite health choices that most doctors would not like. Jeanne Calment, whose 122 years won her the Guinness Book of World Records' entry as the oldest human being, smoked until her 120th birthday.

"They are not all exemplary: Some people smoked, some drank heavily," says L. Stephen Coles, co-founder of the Gerontology Research Group, which researches centenarian health. "There is no particular thing you could point to that you could say 'If you do this, you will live to one hundred.'"

The deciding factor, Coles told THE FUTURIST, is genetics. He notes that many centenarians' parents lived into their 90s.

"If your parents lived long, you will probably live long," he says.

Robert Young, claims researcher for the Gerontology Research Group, adds that being a woman also helps. In the research group's database of 4,000 "supercentenarians"--people who live more than 110 years--90% are women.

Young attributes the gender imbalance to basic physiological differences: Women's bodies naturally last longer than men's. …

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