By John Salak –
Think your genes are the prime factors determining how long you’ll live? Think again. Scientists at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine just reported that your environment and socioeconomic status may play an even larger role in determining whether you’ll see 80, 90 or even hit the centenarian age.
The university’s study indicates that individuals living in “highly walkable, mixed-age communities may be more likely to live longer, possibly to their 100th birthday.” It went on to note that it found a significantly higher percentage of older adults benefited from living in cities and small towns that had relatively higher socioeconomic standings.
“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that social and environmental factors contribute significantly to longevity,” explained the study’s author Rajan Bhardwaj, a second-year medical student at Washington State. Heritable factors, such as genes, only explain about 20% to 35% of an individual’s chances of reaching centenarian age, he added.
Ultimately, Bhardwaj and other researchers noted that people can increase their chances to live a long life—even to 100—by selecting an environment that supports healthy aging.
Admittedly, the study acknowledged that exactly what specific healthy aging elements constitute a supportive environment isn’t totally clear. Certainly, a community’s poverty level, access to transit and primary care, walkability, percentage of the working-age population, rural-urban status, air pollution and green space exposure are all factors.
Washington State’s work, however, discovered that neighborhood walkability, higher socioeconomic status and a high percentage of the working-age population all had a significant positive impact on the longevity of residents. Women in general also tend to live longer than men regardless of their environment.
“These findings indicate that mixed-age communities are very beneficial for everyone involved,” said Bhardwaj. “They also support the big push in growing urban centers toward making streets more walkable, which makes exercise more accessible to older adults and makes it easier for them to access medical care and grocery stores.”
Neighborhoods that scored highly in these factors tend to be in urban areas, which the researchers theorized made older adults feel less isolated and more likely to receive community support.
Dr. Roger Landry, the author of Live Long, Die Short, underscored the importance of genetics in determining longevity but also acknowledged that lifestyle choices and environmental factors may supersede genes in determining longevity.
“We know so much more than we used to about aging and staying healthy later in life. Good genetics are only part of the equation, says 70% of the physical differences and 50% of the intellectual differences between older adults who are healthier in later years and those who don’t boil down to lifestyle choices,” He said.
Landry went on to cite what he considers other crucial elements that transcend the impact of an individual’s genes. These include
- Having A Life of Purpose: Older adults who are engaged in meaningful activity.
- Maintaining Social Connections: Isolation is a serious health risk for mature adults.
- Sustaining Brain Health: Good nutrition, stress management and regular exercise are key.
- Staying Active: 30-40 minutes of physical activity daily cuts serious health risks.
- Feeding the Spirit: Anything from organized religion to meditation, painting and gardening are nourishment for the soul.
- Physical Environment: Making an individual’s living area senior-friendly.
- Good Nutrition: Feeding the body right helps maintain physical and mental health.
So, if you’re interested in seeing 100, get moving and find an engaging age-friendly environment.