Exercise, lemon juice, hard work and “it just happened” are all reasons provided for longevity by a cohort of 95-plus Australians involved in the Sydney Centenarian Study .
The study, the largest of its kind with 410 subjects, aims to explore the genetic and environmental factors that underpin successful ageing.
About four in ten of the sample were living in aged care, and of those about 60 per cent were in a high care facility.
The study will also examine the prevalence of dementia and functional impairments among a sample of the 13,000 NSW residents aged 95 and over in relation to age, sex and education.
Outlining the research at longevity conference in Sydney, the study’s coordinator Adam Theobald from the UNSW’s Center for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) said physical activity had emerged as the primary factor – at least as far as “the experts” – the centenarians themselves – were concerned.
“Every one of our participants are a success story. Life expectancy when our participants were born was just over 60 in Australia. These people have lived 40 years beyond that. They’re doing a lot right and we’re trying to work out what that is.”
Benefits of physical activity
He said when the participants were asked to choose from a list of what they thought the most important factor for their longevity was, “by far the most popular choice was remaining physically active”.
When asked an open question about their secret to a long life researchers got a range of responses, including self-discipline, avoiding takeaway food and not wanting what other people have. But he added that some participants “are genuinely surprised that they are talking to us”.
Life expectancy in Australia is increasing, the conference heard. By 2044 the average life expectancy for women will be 89.4 and men 86.1. According to the AIHW, women born between 2014-2016 can expect to live to 80.4 and 84.6 respectively.
People born in 1950 now have a one in six chance of living to 100 for women and a three in 100 chance for men. In 2050 there will be 60,000 Australian centenarians and 66 per cent will be female. In 2014 there were 3,5000.
Other factors for longevity were canvassed at the Cheba Living To 100 Conference on Friday, including remaining curious about life, an ability to adapt, good quality and sufficient sleep and education.
Importance of education
“Education has an enormous influence on successful ageing,” Professor Ingmar Skoog form the University of Gothenburg in Sweden said.
“Education influences almost everything, cardiovascular conditions, dementia. The best way of preventing disorders in old age is to increase the education level in the country.”
Meanwhile, Professor Michel Poulain, the man who first mapped the world’s so-called “blue zones”, or regions of the world where people live much longer than anywhere else, said research had found a relationship between longevity, having a spouse or being a monk or nun.
“As a recommendation for men, remain with a spouse as long as possible. For women, stay single or live alone, or lose your husband very early and thereafter live alone,” he said.
“But above everything, go to a religious community.”
But one thing, apparently won’t guarantee you a long life, according to Iowa University’s Professor Peter Martin.
“There’s some bad news. Not a single centenarian researcher has made it to 100 yet,” he said.