The Key to Human Longevity Lies in the Genes of Centenarians
Sat, April 10, 2021

The Key to Human Longevity Lies in the Genes of Centenarians


What made people live to 100? There must be some kind of secret, right? Even scientists from different countries have been studying “super-agers” who are living without significant memory or physical problems to determine the key that may help other people living longer and better.

Genes and longevity

A new study published in journal Nature Metabolism explains that the key to human longevity lies in the genes of centenarians. These people not only live over a hundred years but rarely suffer from common age-related diseases.

They said that aging is the greatest risk factor for most common chronic human diseases. Therefore, it is a logical target in designing interventions to prevent, reverse, or mitigate multiple age-related morbidities. In the past two decades, pharmacologic and genetic interventions targeting conserved pathways of metabolism and growth have led to a substantial extension of healthspan and lifespan in model organisms.

Zhengdong D. Zhang from the Department of Genetics in Albert Einstein College of Medicine and colleagues propose the use of a rare phenotype to determine genetic variants to gain insights into the physiology of healthy aging as well as the development of new therapies in extending the human healthspan.

The physiological feasibility of living beyond the ninth decade

They wrote that long-lived individuals have established the physiological feasibility of living beyond the ninth decade in relatively good health. Their life also ended without a period of protracted illness. This means that nature already provided as a genetic blueprint not just for longevity but for healthy longevity. All we need to do is to decode it.

Neuroscientist Shelly Xuelai Fan, who was not involved in the study, analyzed the work conducted by Albert Einstein College of Medicine researchers. She then cited a 2005 longevity research, which shows that centenarians lived much longer than individuals who lived in the same environment and born around the same time. The offspring of centenarians likewise exhibit a more youthful profile of age-related inflammation and metabolism and have lower chances of age-related diseases than others of the same gender and age.

Fan refers to it as the “genetic legacy.” This is because regardless of their environment, about 25 to 35% of the variability in how long people live is determined by their genes. It’s like they won a genetic lottery in terms of aging, she added. So, instead of focusing the studies about healthspan on general pollution, the secret is to give attention to the centenarians of different upbringing, socioeconomic status, and cultures.



Centenarians: statistics

The American Society on Aging states that there are 31 countries nowadays with 15% or more of their population ages 65 and older. The leading countries in the list are Japan and Monaco. About 24% of both their respective population is 65 years old or older. Included also in the list are Germany and Italy (both 21%). However, the ranking is different in terms of what countries have the oldest people.  China leads with 129 million people, followed by India (77 million), United States (46 million), Japan (30 million), and the former Soviet Union (27 million). The UN has also estimated that centenarians are on the rise worldwide.

Meanwhile, life expectancy, which is a measure of premature death, differs across the world. According to scientific online publication Our World in Data, many richest countries have life expectancies of over 80 years. Last year, the life expectancy of Australia, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain was over 83 years. In Japan, its life expectancy was close to 85 years.

The steady rise of Japan’s centenarian population

In 2018, the number of Japanese aged 100 or older reached a record high of almost 70,000. It was a cause for both concern and celebration for the country. The Kyodo News reported that the country’s centenarian population was 69,785 as of September 2018. It was a cause of concern because of economic and social challenges. The super-aging society puts a strain on welfare and health service as the working population also declines because of the low birth rate, reported The Guardian.

Experts have attributed the steady rise of the centenarians in Japan to universal healthcare, regular medical examinations, and a preference for Japan’s traditional low-fat diet. Another formula for a long and happy life practiced in Japan is Ikigai or “a reason for being.” Iki means “to live” and gai means “reason.” In the very essence, Ikigai means having a sense of meaning or purpose and motivation in life.



Some centenarians themselves spilled their secret for living long. Jeanne Calment, 122, took up fencing and continued to ride her bicycle up until her 100th birthday. She ascribed her longevity to olive oil, which she rubbed onto her skin and poured on all her food.

Sarah Knauss, 119, was also described by her only child Kathryn Knauss Sullivan as a “very tranquil person.” Sullivan, who lived to be a centenarian herself said nothing fazes her mother. Meanwhile, Emiliano Mercado Del Toro, 115, claimed that his sense of humor was probably the reason for his long life. He would tell humorous anecdotes and jokes almost to the end of his days.

Having a good appetite, lots of friends, and keeping busy are the secrets of Bonita Zigrang, 108. Also, Samuel Ball, 102, said that having a good wife, being easy-going, and two scotches a night are his secrets to longevity.

While most people won’t be healthy enough to dance at their great-grandchild’s wedding, some people are not only dancing but are also cooking, volunteering, and driving at an age where they’re supposed to be confused by dementia or are physically weak. In another research by American author Dan Buettner, he identified the Blue Zones or regions of the world where people live much longer than average. People living in these regions have some things in common:

-a plant-based diet or eating whole grains,

-having a sense of purpose,

-belonging to a faith-based community,

-opportunities for natural movement, like gardening, herding, or walking,

-not overeating and not eating after sunset, and

-finding some way to “downshift” every day or they take a daily nap.

The findings of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine team show that it is not just the environmental factors that are linked to a long life but also our genes.