The Bible tells us that Methuselah lived to be 969 years old. Of course, the Bible also says that he fathered a child at 187, and that all our troubles can be blamed on a talking snake.
Even if the Bible can’t be relied upon as a science text, there’s no denying that some people do live to be incredibly old. Periodically you read about groups whose members live to ages that boggle the modern mind – ages that seem more appropriate to Galapagos tortoises, or maybe Jerry Lewis.
No, I’m not talking about the Rolling Stones. I’m talking about odd little subpopulations that seem to defy the laws of nature by living to incredibly advanced ages.
For a host of reasons, these groups capture the popular imagination. Apart from their old age, they seem to have nothing in common. They can be found all over the globe. Some are part of the modern word, and others live in societies we might deem medieval. Some are rich, and others are not. Some attribute their longevity to clean living, while others have vices that would give Charlie Sheen pause.
Well, I read a study the other day that suggests that surest way to living a long life is very simply this: choose your ancestors carefully.
Seriously. Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine interviewed 477 Ashkenazi Jews who lived on their own, even though they were at least 95 years old. Some were as old as 112.
The researchers asked all sorts of nosy questions, including whether the oldsters drank or smoked, if they exercised and what they ate. They then compared these findings to data collected from 3,164 people who had been born around the same time (and who, not coincidentally, had not died).
Their conclusion was surprising: generally speaking, the old-timers were no more or less likely to make healthier choices. They smoked just as much, drank just as much, and were just as likely to sit on their asses watching whatever Ashkenazi Jews watch on TV (“Two and a Half Mensch,” maybe?)
Here’s an even bigger surprise: in some cases, the oldsters had worse habits than did their shorter-lived contemporaries. For example, only about 43 percent of the men who lived to 100 exercised regularly, compared to 57 percent of the others.
The key take-away here clearly is that genes play the biggest role in living a long time – a much bigger role than how well we take care of ourselves.
Still, researchers stressed that their findings don’t give the rest of us carte blanche to switch to a diet of Marlboros and Miller Lite or to give up the gym. And while exercise may not make your life longer, it will certainly make it seem longer – especially those hours spent on the treadmill.