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Education Linked to Longevity

Learn To Age Better

Education Linked to Longevity

By John Salak –

Getting an education was seen for decades as a ticket to personal achievement and better pay. Now researchers at Columbia University report that education mobility is associated with a slower pace of aging and a lower risk of death.

In fact, the study shows that two additional years of schooling leads to a two-to-three-percent slower pace of aging. This slowdown also cuts mortality risk by 10 percent.  

The Columbia team drew its conclusions from participants in the Framingham Heart Study, which is an ongoing, multi-generational observational project initiated in 1948. The university claims its analysis is the first to connect educational mobility with the pace of biological aging and mortality.

“We’ve known for a long time that people who have higher levels of education tend to live longer lives. But there are a bunch of challenges in figuring out how that happens and, critically, whether interventions to promote educational attainment will contribute to healthy longevity,” said senior author Daniel Belsky, Ph.D., associate professor of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School and the Aging Center.

The research project met this challenge of measuring the pace of aging by applying an algorithm known as the DunedinPACE epigenetic clock to genomic data collected by the Framingham study. The process revealed the impact education has on aging and mortality.

DunedinPACE, which was developed by Columbia, stands for Pace of Aging Computed from the Epigenome. It uses blood test measurements and functions like a speedometer for the aging process, charting how fast or slow a person’s body is changing as they grow older.

The Columbia researchers used data from about 14,000 Framingham participants spanning three generations to link children’s educational attainment data with that of their parents. The team also tested associations between educational mobility, aging, and mortality in a subset of about 3,000 participants whose educational mobility and pace of aging measures could be calculated. The researchers also tested whether differences in educational attainment between a subset of about 2,400 siblings were associated with a difference in the pace of aging.

“A key confound in studies like these is that people with different levels of education tend to come from families with different educational backgrounds and different levels of other resources,” explained Gloria Graf, a Ph.D. candidate and first author of the study. “To address these confounds, we focused on educational mobility, how much more or less education a person completed relative to their parents, and sibling differences in educational attainment—how much more or less education a person completed relative to their siblings.”

The combination of these designs allowed the team to better isolate how education impacts aging and mortality risk.

While experimental evidence is needed to confirm their findings, Graf stressed that “our findings support the hypothesis that interventions to promote educational attainment will slow the pace of biological aging and promote longevity.”

“We found that upward educational mobility was associated both with a slower pace of aging and decreased risk of death,” said Graf. “In fact, up to half of the educational gradient in mortality we observed was explained by healthier aging trajectories among better-educated participants.”





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