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This chapter is from the book

Longevity Research Is Still Young

Humans only began living to the age of 100 in the twentieth century, so the longevity research field is a relatively youthful one. Most of the work has been done in the last two decades. Aubrey de Grey said, “It’s only been about the last 10 or 15 years that we have been able to start talk about actual theory of concrete plans for delivering medicine that postpones aging.”

The majority of the knowledge about longevity today has been obtained by studying super-agers like Calment, Kimura, and Knauss (see “The Methuselah Award Goes to ...” earlier in this chapter). The intention is to find out what these people do that the rest of us don’t do that makes them live exceptionally long lives. Researchers study their daily habits to isolate common lifestyle choices.

What they have discovered is that gobbling chocolate and slurping port, taking olive oil baths, or eating potato chips while watching golf isn’t the fountain of youth. (But it sounds fun though, doesn’t it?) What we do know is that what you eat and how you live your life is certainly a major factor. However, your genetics play a big role in how long you live as well.

Research from the world’s largest centenarian study, the New England Centenarian Study, shows the ability for an individual to live a long time is 20 percent to 30 percent attributable to their genetic makeup. The remaining 70 percent to 80 percent relates to what you do regularly to stay healthy.

One of the core fields of study in longevity science is genetics. If scientists can master genetic engineering and bring everyday genetic therapies to the masses—especially to those that have short genetic fuses and have a family history of short livers—then we are starting to unlock the puzzle on a key factor that can extend longevity.

The Kay Walkers of the world don’t have to worry much on this genetic front because she has two grandmothers that are still alive at 87 and 90. That suggests Kay has good longevity genes.

The Andy Walkers have it a little tougher. His paternal grandfather died young, in his 20s (as a result of war), and his maternal grandfather is unknown. That said, Andy’s father and eldest paternal uncle are mostly healthy in their mid 70s.

In Sean Carruthers’ case, it’s a wild card situation. His father died of a heart attack/stroke at 60, after fighting hypertension most of his life. His mom on the other hand is a hardy 71 and her mom is 95. Sean’s other three grandparents made it to their late 70s or 80s.

Like us, if you want an indicator of your own longevity genetics, look at your grandparents and parents and uncles/aunts and you’ll get a sense of what programming is likely nestled in your genes.

One study shows your life span can somewhat correlate to your parents’s life span. It has a minimal impact though, and is not a guaranteed indicator of your longevity. It should be factored in with your lifestyle. Disease in your immediate family might be more of an indicator that your longevity fuse is shorter thanks to your genes. But again, no one factor will predict your life span. Twin studies, however, suggest genetics only account for approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of your predictable life span.

You can play against a bad hand dealt to you with two strategies:

  • Wait for genetic therapies to adjust for your genetic deficiencies, and

  • Adjust your lifestyle to buy time until longevity-extending technologies arrive.

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