Don’t Smoke and Be Socially Active to Live a Long, Healthy Life

Want to live a long, healthy life?

According to a new study from researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand, the secrets to longevity boil down to two strategies: Don’t smoke and be socially engaged throughout your golden years.

These are common traits revealed by a new study of New Zealanders who have lived past 100.

The study’s results show that people have control over the aging process, according to Associate Professor Yoram Barak, a consultant psychogeriatrician.

“Electing not to smoke and committing to maintain social networking will be the best investment one can make towards successful aging,” he says.

According to Barak, being socially active means physically going out of your home and away from your family and interacting with people. That could be as simple as visiting friends, volunteering, attending a concert, or playing golf, he explains.

Wording with his colleagues Professor Paul Glue, from the Department of Psychological Medicine, and Dr. Sharon Leitch from the Department of General Practice and Rural Health, Barak set out to investigate the variables associated with exceptionally healthy extreme old age.

“This is so we can make some recommendations to try and help people age well,” he says.

The researchers examined data relating to 292 centenarians who were free of common chronic diseases such as diabetes, depression, dementia, and hypertension. The researchers also included information relating to 103,377 older people over the age of 60.

All of these people were living in private accommodation in the community and not in aged residential care, the researchers note.

The study’s findings showed that social engagements, where the centenarians are participating in social activities of long-standing interest, was similar across all age groups.

Rates of depression and diabetes declined steadily with increasing age, while rates of dementia declined after the age of 80, according to the study’s findings. Hypertension rates increased by nearly 30 percent from age 60 to 100 years, the study discovered.

While there is evidence that exercise improves health and length of life, in this study most participants had a similar profile of physical activity, according to the researchers. This means there was not sufficient spread of duration or intensity of physical activities to test the effects on aging.

However, among those surveyed, the highest physical activity groups were at the lowest risk of dementia, the researchers reported.

As of 2011, there were estimated to be between 400 to 500 centenarians living in New Zealand. Of these, fewer than 40 were over the age of 105. The mean age of those interviewed in the study was 101.

A majority of the centenarians — 75 percent — were female, the study discovered. It also found that in any age group, women were more likely to be free of the most common chronic diseases.

“Women have a longer life expectancy and are therefore more likely to be represented in centenarian studies. However, after correcting for this advantage, men who do make it to 100 years of age are more likely to be free of common illnesses,” Barak says.

The study also found higher rates of centenarians free of common chronic diseases in New Zealand than in other countries.

However, one explanation is that this study considered only centenarians living in the community, who were likely to be in better health compared with those living in residential care or hospital settings, the researchers say.

According to Barak, the biopsychosocial foundations of remarkable health and longevity among centenarians is unclear. Genetic factors, certain geographical locations, and lifestyle characteristics have all been studied in an effort to identify potential predisposing factors of exceptional longevity.

The study was published in the international scientific journal Aging Clinical and Experimental Research.

Source: University of Otago

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