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08 June 2012

Lifestyle choices influence longevity

Genetics may be the best predictor of longevity, but lifestyle choices, including staying connected with family and friends, are key components to reaching the age of 100.

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Genetics may be the best predictor of longevity, but lifestyle choices, including staying connected with family and friends, are key components to reaching the age of 100, according to a new poll.

More than 80% of 100 men and women who have already hit the milestone said being socially active had helped them get there, and a similar number of baby boomers believe it will help them reach their 100th birthday.

"Scientifically we know that the formula, the best predictor, for how long someone will live has traditionally been how long their immediate relatives have lived, so we know genetics is a strong factor," said Dr Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare, which conducted the survey.

"But we are seeing more and more that lifestyle choices - physical exercise, diet, staying engaged, having a social purpose - are becoming a stronger and stronger influence," she said.

Like their children and grandchildren, centenarians have turned to the Internet to stay connected.

Elderly using the internet more

About a quarter of 100-year-olds questioned said they had access to the Web, double the number just a year ago. Of those, more than half use the Internet to view and share photos, and nearly as many send and receive e-mail and search the Internet for information.

Centenarians were also almost as likely as baby boomers to have used an online dating service - 6% of boomers had, compared with 4% of the oldest generation.

"They are all realising that the keys to longevity are around mental, physical and emotion health," said Randall.

About 10% of the 100-year-olds have watched a video on YouTube or listened to music on an iPod, according to the poll, but only 3% have used Facebook, and just one of them has used Twitter.

Over-65s the fastest growing group

Centenarians, along with the over-65 group, are the fastest-growing segment of the population. More than 10 000 boomers will turn 65 every day for the next decade, according to US Census Bureau predictions.

Many of the boomers will help to swell the number of US centenarians to 600 000 by 2050 from an estimated 72 000 at the end of 2010, the Census Bureau said.

Boomers aiming to reach 100 could take some cues from the older generation, who know the importance of exercise and a healthy diet, along with a strong, active mind.

For nearly half of 100-year-olds, walking is their favourite physical activity, but 11% practise yoga, Tai Chi or something similar. Eight percent ride a bicycle regularly, 5% still jog and 2% play a sport such as tennis.

"We are seeing more of a diversification in the types of exercise people are getting," said Randall.

Centenarians can also teach their younger counterparts a thing or two about staying healthy. More than 80% of the oldest generation says they eat nutritiously balanced meals, compared with 68% of boomers.

Sleep and activity

Seventy one percent of 100-year-olds sleep eight hours or more each night, but only 38% of boomers are getting that much rest.

Both groups say they are politically active, and nearly three-quarters of centenarians said they would be heading to the polls in November to vote in the presidential election.

Boomers and centenarians also agree on the importance of lifestyle: Both groups rate it higher than heredity as having a greater impact on lifespan.

(Reuters Health, June 2012)

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