Learning what’s relevant to longevity from centenarians

Lifespan is a heavily manipulated variable. Doctors extend the lifespans of many an unhealthy person. Thus, the use of lifespan per se as a marker of health is suspect, since many centenarians were frail years before their 100th birthday.

But for what it is worth, consider the results so far from the study known as the “Longevity Genes Project” (LGP), done at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, with a cohort of 550 Ashkenazi Jews, age 95, and up.


In the table below, values for the general population are used as a control, when the better control would be to use Ashkenazi Jews as a whole. Such info is not easy to come by.

Characteristic Centenarians General Population Comment
Overweight or Obese 50% 69% Slight disadvantage
Female gender 75% <50% at birth Slight advantage
Moderate Exercise <50% <5%* Huge advantage
Vegetarianism 2% 5% Slight disadvantage

*Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Jan;40(1):181-8. Uses 30 minutes a day for moderate exercise and data were verified with an accelerometer. Not exactly clear what the centenarian standard of moderate exercise is, but the <50% engagement in moderate exercise is likely an overestimation based on self-reported activity. The Med. Sci. article warns: “However, adherence to physical activity recommendations according to accelerometer-measured activity is substantially lower than according to self-report. Great care must be taken when interpreting self-reported physical activity in clinical practice, public health program design and evaluation, and epidemiological research.”

Clearly, for all the worry about weight in this country, it seems like the “healthy fat man” is real and living beyond 100. Excess calories and excess weight are NOT our main problem. Deficiencies, not reasonable excesses, are the problem.

For all the fuss made about vegetarian diets, it seems they may be less healthy overall. The mental error behind vegetarian dieting is the same as the error about weight: The erroneous assumption that excesses – in this case, of saturated fat and red meat – are driving disease. No, critical deficiencies are reducing our abilities to cope with stresses of all kinds, including of course excesses.

A varied diet such as the Square Meal Diet is more enjoyable and is likely healthier than a vegetarian diet.

Females continue to dominate the longevity charts, but as the authors of the LGP study noted, the centenarian males were more vigorous and healthy.

Exercise is probably not quite as important as noted because the numbers of those claiming moderate exercise for the centenarians are likely inflated by significant self-reporting errors. But it would be interesting to know just how important exercise is and exactly what is sufficient exercise. Sufficiency in exercise is probably personal and specific, not one-size-fits-all (the favorite of physicians), and doubtless a function of the other 4 drivers of health and longevity: our genes, our nutrition, our sleep, and our psychological health. That is, the better our genes, our sleep, our psychological health AND/OR our nutrition, the less exercise needed.

In addition, the percentage of male centenarians who drink alcohol daily was 24%, comparable to 22% in the general population. No disadvantage noted from drinking alcohol daily. For those who think any drinking is excessive, one needs to realize again that reasonable excesses do not drive disease and early death. Deficiencies drive disease – extremely heavy drinking entails malnutrition, and that is very bad for health.

Detailed nutritional information would be useful, as would info on sleep patterns.

Since fasting, exercise and sleep are part of the restorative-regenerative function, can fasting or better sleep directly substitute in part for better exercise, and vice versa? I believe it is so. As noted above, can more fasting, better sleep, better nutrition, better psychological health, and genes reduce the personal and specific need for exercise? I believe it is so. Personal and specific: One-size-fits-all is a pervasive error.

I wager that centenarians have better than average values of one or some or all of the 6 drivers of health and longevity: genes, psychological health, nutritional sufficiency, and the three restorative-regenerative functions (fasting, exercise and sleep). Some centenarians may have significantly better values in just one parameter. Others may have slightly better values in two or most or all of them.

Rather than looking at detailed psychological health measures, the authors of this LGP centenarian study looked at positive attitude, a poor substitute. No surprise – positive attitude does not correlate with longevity. One of the persons who I consider to be very healthy psychologically has a real negative attitude about current events that he tirelessly enjoys sharing with those around him, relieving his stress while stressing his audience. I don’t think negative attitude matters as long as the person is not depressed or de-energized by his negative attitudes. This man I know is energized and inspired by his vitriolic hatred of the political left and EVERYTHING they stand for.


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