100th Birthday Cake

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SHANGHAI, China — Even in your 80s, it’s not too late to adopt healthy habits that could help you live to 100 and beyond. That’s the encouraging message from a groundbreaking new international study, which found that older adults who maintained healthier lifestyles had significantly better odds of becoming centenarians.

The research, published in JAMA Network Open, suggests that simple lifestyle choices like not smoking, exercising regularly, and eating a diverse diet can boost your odds of reaching the century mark – even if you make all of these changes in your later years. It’s a hopeful finding that challenges assumptions about the impact of lifestyle changes for the very old.

“Adhering to a healthy lifestyle appears to be important even at late ages, suggesting that constructing strategic plans to improve lifestyle behaviors among all older adults may play a key role in promoting healthy aging and longevity,” the study authors write in their report.

Methodology

To investigate the link between lifestyle and extreme longevity, researchers tapped into data from the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey, one of the largest studies of very old people in the world. They identified 1,454 individuals who lived to at least 100 years-old, then matched them with 3,768 control participants of similar age and background who died before reaching 100.

The team constructed a “healthy lifestyle score” (HLS) based on three key factors:

  1. Smoking status (never, former, or current smoker)
  2. Exercise habits (current, former, or never exerciser)
  3. Dietary diversity (based on regular consumption of fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, and tea)

Participants received 0-2 points for each factor, for a total possible score of 0-6. The researchers then compared the lifestyle scores of centenarians to those who didn’t reach 100 to see if healthier habits were associated with greater longevity.

Results

Making these healthy choices produced striking results. Those with the highest lifestyle scores (5-6 points) had 61% higher odds of becoming centenarians compared to those with the lowest scores (0-2 points). This association held up even after accounting for factors like education level, marital status, and pre-existing health conditions.

Breaking it down by individual factors:

  • Never smoking increased the odds of reaching 100 by 25% compared to current smoking
  • Current regular exercise boosted odds by 31% compared to never exercising
  • A highly diverse diet improved odds by 23% compared to the least diverse diets

Interestingly, the researchers found that body mass index and alcohol consumption weren’t significantly linked to reaching centenarian status in this population.

Older couple eating healthy diet with vegetables
Those with the highest lifestyle scores had 61% higher odds of becoming centenarians compared to those with the lowest scores. (© rh2010 – stock.adobe.com)

Study Limitations

Most of the lifestyle information was self-reported, which can introduce errors. The study also lacked detailed information on past lifestyle habits, making it hard to determine the impact of lifelong behaviors versus recent changes.

Additionally, the research was observational, meaning it can show associations but can’t prove that lifestyle changes directly cause increased longevity. While the study was large, all participants were Chinese, so the findings may not apply equally to other populations.

Takeaways

Despite these caveats, the study offers compelling evidence that it’s never too late to make positive changes.

“By targeting the older age group (≥80 years), this observed association between a higher HLS and a higher likelihood of becoming a centenarian extended our understanding that people with healthy lifestyle behaviors, even at a very advanced age, could still have better health outcomes compared with their counterparts,” the authors conclude.

The research also suggests that public health initiatives targeting lifestyle improvements in older adults could have significant impacts on population health and longevity. As the global population ages, finding ways to promote not just a longer life but a healthier long life becomes increasingly crucial. For individuals, the takeaway is clear – small, sustainable lifestyle changes, even late in life, may boost your chances of joining the exclusive centenarian club.

StudyFinds Editor Chris Melore contributed to this report.

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StudyFinds sets out to find new research that speaks to mass audiences — without all the scientific jargon. The stories we publish are digestible, summarized versions of research that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. StudyFinds Staff articles are AI assisted, but always thoroughly reviewed and edited by a Study Finds staff member. Read our AI Policy for more information.

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