Lifestyles of the Old and Healthy Defy Convention

Einstein Researchers Find Centenarians Just as Likely as the Rest of Population to Smoke, Drink and Pack on Pounds

People who live to 95 or older are no more virtuous than the rest of us in terms of their diet, exercise routine or smoking and drinking habits, according to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

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Their findings, published today in the online edition of Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, suggests that “nature” (in the form of protective longevity genes) may be more important than “nurture” (lifestyle behaviors) when it comes to living an exceptionally long life. Nir Barzilai, M.D., the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair of Aging Research and director of the Institute for Aging Research at Einstein, was the senior author of the study.

Dr. Barzilai and his Einstein colleagues interviewed 477 Ashkenazi Jews who were living independently and were 95 and older (95-112, 75 percent of them women). They were enrolled in Einstein’s Longevity Genes Project, an ongoing study that seeks to understand why centenarians live as long as they do. (Descended from a small founder group, Ashkenazi Jews are more genetically uniform than other populations, making it easier to spot gene differences that are present.)

The elderly participants were asked about their lifestyles at age 70, considered representative of the lifestyle they’d followed for most of their adult lives. They answered questions about their weight and height so that their body mass index (BMI) could be calculated. They also provided information about their alcohol consumption, smoking habits, physical activity and whether they ate a low-calorie, low-fat or low-salt diet.

To compare these long-lived individuals with the general population, the researchers used data from 3,164 people who had been born around the same time as the centenarians and were examined between 1971 and 1975 while participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES I).

Overall, people with exceptional longevity did not have healthier habits than the comparison group in terms of BMI, smoking, physical activity or diet. For example, 27 percent of the elderly women and an equal percentage of women in the general population attempted to eat a low-calorie diet. Among long-living men, 24 percent consumed alcohol daily, compared with 22 percent of the general population. And only 43 percent of male centenarians reported engaging in regular exercise of moderate intensity, compared with 57 percent of men in the comparison group. Read full article at Einstein News

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