lifestyle choices affect long life more than genetics

A massive new genetic study has identified some of the key lifestyle choices you make that influence how long you’ll live.
Exciting previous research has shown the important role of lifestyle in longevity.

The study looked at lifespan information for 606,059 parents of patients whose genome information was available. Amongst other things, they were looking for relationships between life expectancy, gene patterns and lifestyle choices.

They found that more education, quitting smoking, higher HDL cholesterol and, surprisingly, being open to new experiences were associated with longer lifespan.

They also found that smoking, insulin resistance and body fat are associated with shorter lifespans.

The associations were not trivial. Smoking a pack a day reduces lifespan by a horrible 6.8 years. Each body mass index (BMI) unit above the healthy level reduces lifespan by 7 months. On the other hand, each extra year you spend in school increases your lifespan by 11 months.

The most important changes seem to be quitting smoking, improving systolic blood pressure and increasing education. Differences between the best group and the worst group in smoking affected lifespan by 5.3 years, in systolic blood pressure by 5.2 years and in education by 4.7 years. The next most important factors are fasting insulin, BMI and coronary artery disease.

Coronary artery disease and cigarette smoking were the things most strongly associated with shorter lifespans. Other health conditions most linked to shorter lives include Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, ischaemic stroke, squamous cell lung cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Quitting smoking and years of schooling were the most strongly associated with longer lifespans. High levels of the heart healthy HDL cholesterol and happiness (depressive symptoms versus subjective well-being) were associated with longer lifespans.

A surprising finding was that openness to new experiences is associated with living longer. The researchers said that that personality trait reflects curiosity versus caution.

The most exciting thing about this study is the researchers’ conclusion that though longevity is partially determined by genetics, it is really determined to an “even greater extent, by modifiable risk factors.” Healthy lifestyle choices, like quitting smoking, watching blood pressure, blood sugar and weight, and staying in school, being happy, curious and open to new experiences can all make you live longer.


Nature Communications 8, Article number: 910 (2017); doi:10.1038/s41467-017-00934-5


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