SPOKANE, Wash. — Humanity has been searching for the fountain of youth for as long as time itself. For centuries we’ve been chasing ever elusive longevity, and along the way countless strategies have been concocted. Many will tell you to eat right and exercise diligently to ensure a happy, healthy, and above all else long life. Others have quirkier approaches like having a glass of wine each night or avoiding sweets after 8 o’clock at night.
Now, researchers from Washington State University claim to have uncovered yet another major piece of the longevity puzzle. Their new study on people who have reached the age of 100 concludes that the neighborhood where one lives plays a big role in their estimated lifespan.
How community plays role in longevity
After analyzing a large collection of Washington state mortality data, the research team says that Washingtonians living in very walkable, mixed-age communities are much more likely to reach the century. mark. Socioeconomic status appears to play a role as well. People living in well-off urban and small town areas enjoy better odds of living to 100. Such areas include the Seattle and Pullman regions of Washington.
“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that social and environmental factors contribute significantly to longevity, says study author Rajan Bhardwaj in a release. Earlier research, he notes, estimates that heritable factors only explain about 20% to 35% of an individual’s chances of reaching centenarian age.
“We know from previous research that you can modify, through behavior, your susceptibility to different diseases based on your genetics,” explains Ofer Amram, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor in charge of WSU’s Community Health and Spatial Epidemiology (CHaSE) lab.
Genetics are, of course, a big factor for lifespan. This study suggests, however, that the communities where we live can go a long way towards overcoming genetic odds.
‘Survival analysis’ of Washingtonians
In all, data from more than 145,000 Washingtonians who had passed away after reaching the age of 75 between 2011-2015 was included in the research. The study’s authors had access to information on each examined individual’s place of residence, age, gender, race, education level, etc.
Then, each participant’s neighborhood was evaluated across a variety of different categories. Researchers looked at access to transit, poverty level, access to primary care, walkability, air pollution, green space levels, and rural-urban status. From there, each neighborhood and demographic factor underwent what the authors dub a “survival analysis.” This allowed researchers to determine which elements result in the best chances of locals reaching 100 years old.
A number of factors were found to be positively correlated with seeing one’s 100th birthday. These included neighborhood walkability, socioeconomic status, and a high percentage of working age population.
Long walks, long life
“These findings indicate that mixed-age communities are very beneficial for everyone involved,” says Bhardwaj. “They also support the big push in growing urban centers toward making streets more walkable, which makes exercise more accessible to older adults and makes it easier for them to access medical care and grocery stores.”
The study’s authors also noted that many neighborhoods with a diverse variety of ages tend to be located in urban areas. Regarding gender and race, being caucasian or female was also correlated with living a long life.
More work is needed to refine these discoveries, but researchers are optimistic that their work could be used in the future to construct living communities for older adults that promote longevity.
The study is published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.