DUNEDIN, New Zealand — Everyone gets old. It’s an inevitable truth humans have come to terms with. How old you’ll live to, however, is another question. If you’re aiming for the century mark, researchers from the University of Otago say they know the secret. Avoiding smoking and maintaining an active social life are the common keys found among New Zealanders who live past 100.
The study collected data from 292 centenarians who were free of chronic diseases such as dementia, depression, diabetes, and hypertension. Over 103,000 people over the age of 60 were also included. All the participants were living in private residences at the time and were not receiving at-home care.
“Electing not to smoke and committing to maintain social networking will be the best investment one can make towards successful aging,” Associate Professor Yoram Barak says in a university release.
Commonalities among centenarians
The study shows having social activities of long-lasting interest helps decrease the chances of developing chronic illnesses. Researchers say anything from volunteering to attending a concert to playing golf with friends offers great aging benefits.
Keeping a healthy body is especially important in our first years as seniors. That’s because as we pass the age of 80, chances of developing dementia, depression, and diabetes actually start to go down. From ages 60 to 100 however, the risk of having high blood pressure increases by 30 percent.
Researchers say three out of four 100-year-olds in the study are women and are also more likely to be free of chronic illnesses. As of 2011, about 400 to 500 centenarians were living in New Zealand. Out of this group, only 40 had reached 105 years-old.
“Women have a longer life expectancy and are therefore more likely to be represented in centenarian studies. However, after correcting for this advantage, men who do make it to 100 years of age are more likely to be free of common illnesses,” Barak explains.
Home sweet home another key for long life?
Although the study finds there are more people in New Zealand living long lives compared to other countries, the authors note none of their participants are in assisted living facilities.
The Otago team says people living in their own home and community are likely to be in better health than those is hospitals and nursing homes.
The findings are published in the journal Aging Clinical and Experimental Research.