At a recent event, I was introduced to a book called Living to 100. The book explores many of the factors that contribute to longevity and is based on research performed by the New England Centenarian Study. As you probably know, a centenarian is a person who has lived beyond the age of 100. The subject of longevity interests me for a couple of reasons. First, as a financial advisor, life expectancy plays a major role in the planning process and is a critical factor to consider when planning for the distribution phase of one’s life. The second and more personal reason is that longevity runs in my family.
My father’s paternal grandmother (“Granny Zschiesche”) lived to the age of 100, and my mother’s paternal grandmother (“Nana”) lived to 94. We often asked both of these incredible women to what they attributed their long lives. My favorite response always came from Nana, a devout Catholic, who credited her long life to her daily consumption of two glasses of red wine: one during her “happy hour” and one during her “holy hour.”
The New England Centenarian Study originally began in 1995 with all centenarians living in eight towns in the Boston area. According to the latest data on Boston University’s website, the study now includes approximately 1,600 centenarians, including 107 “supercentenarians” (people age 110 and over). The study focuses extensively on genetic and behavioral drivers of longevity. Given that we have no control over our genes, my interest today lies in the behavioral factors that contribute to a long, healthy life.
Here are four factors which, according to the study, have the potential to increase life expectancy:
Flossing your teeth daily adds 1 year. I must admit, this one surprised me. According to the study, “Recent scientific evidence reveals that chronic gum disease leads to the release of inflammatory, toxic substances and certain bacteria into the bloodstream, which leads to plaque formation in arteries and ultimately to heart disease.”
Taking one 81 mg aspirin daily adds 2 years. It probably goes without saying that you should consult your doctor before taking any medication, but studies have shown that low doses of aspirin improve heart and brain health and can reduce the likelihood of heart attack or stroke.
Limiting your consumption of red meat adds 3 years. Keeping your weekly consumption of red meat to 1 – 2 days limits your iron intake. Evidence suggests that elevated iron levels can lead to the formation of arterial plaque.
Quitting smoking adds 22 years. I debated whether or not to even include this one since the effects of smoking are so widely known. But more than any other lifestyle habit, smoking has the highest chance of reducing life expectancy. Approximately 400,000 deaths annually are attributed to smoking.
This is just a sampling of some of the behavioral changes that have the potential in increase longevity. Keeping your weight at a healthy level, exercising frequently and checking blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure regularly can all have an impact. If you’re interested in completing a questionnaire to estimate your own life expectancy and see which factors may benefit you, visit the site www.livingto100.com.
And if you were wondering whether or not the study mentions anything about the effect of “holy hour,” you may be interested to know that, “Moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with decreased heart disease risk.” Our dear Nana may have been on to something.
Sources: http://www.bumc.bu.edu/centenarian/overview/ and results of “The Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calculator”
Disclaimer: For discussion purposes only. This article should not be construed as a substitute for the advice and guidance of your doctor and is not intended to offer a comprehensive exposition of all factors which could add to or detract from life expectancy. No effort has been made to verify the results of the studies referenced in this article. All claims made by the study have been taken at face value.