- New research explores the genetic and lifestyle differences of people who live to at least 100 years old.
- The study researchers found that people over the age of 100 have strong immune systems.
- Doctors say the study findings may eventually lead to treatments that could help extend the lives of others.
Many people aim to live long, healthy lives — and scientists may have discovered the secret to doing just that.
A new study published in the journal eBioMedicineThey analyzed the DNA and lifestyle of seven centenarians (people who are at least 100 years old) to try to figure out how they lived that long. Researchers discovered that people in the 100+ group had highly functioning immune systems that fought and recovered from a range of illnesses.
While the study is small, the researchers said in a statement that it is the largest single-cell data set of centenarians to date. There will be 89,739 centenarians living in the United States in 2021 — nearly double the number two decades ago, according to data from the United Nations.
So, is having a strong immune system into old age the key to living longer? Here’s what we know.
Why might a strong immune system help you live longer?
It’s important to note up front that the study didn’t prove that having a strong immune system helps you live longer — it simply found that people over 100 have strong immune systems. “It’s unclear whether this is a cause of aging or a consequence of it,” says Scott Kaiser, MD, a geriatrician and director of cognitive health on aging at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California. However, there are a few things worth exploring here.
One is that your immune system tends to become less robust as you get older, says lead study author Tania Karagianis, PhD, a bioinformatics expert in the Center for Quantitative Methods and Data Science and the Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts University. medical Center.
“With age come changes in our immune systems, including their function and cell composition, and these changes can lead to diseases associated with aging,” she says. “Many centenarians experience delays in the onset of diseases associated with aging, and this suggests an elite immunity that is still highly functional even into extreme old age.”
It also appears that centenarians come into contact with their fair share of pathogens, Karagianis says. “Our findings suggest that centenarians are at greater exposure to infections and harbor unique, high-functioning immune systems to deal with these exposures, allowing for extreme old age to be reached.”“,” Says.
On a very basic level, too, having a strong immune system means your body is better able to fight off infections that can be serious — even deadly, says Thomas Russo, MD, chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New Jersey. York. “One of the leading causes of death is infection,” he says. “We’re doing better in the era of antibiotics and a variety of supportive therapies, but we’re still not quite perfect in terms of trying to manage serious infections.”
“If someone has an immune system that is behaving like that of a younger person, they are less likely to die from the infection,” Dr. Russo continues. “While this is not the only factor in reaching old age, it is an important one.”
How to support a healthy immune system
Much of how your immune system performs comes down to genetics, Dr. Russo says, and recent study findings support that. “Our study indicates that there are changes in the gene expression of the immune system that are specific to the age of centenarians,” says Karagianis.
You can’t really give yourself an immune system like a perennial, says Dr. Russo, but you can “artificially boost” it to ensure you’re as prepared as possible for pathogens that may come your way. “This means making sure you are up to date on all the vaccines we recommend at the right time,” he says. “It is definitely better than not vaccinating.”
It’s also important to see your health care provider on a regular basis, Dr. Russo says, and if you’re a group at high risk for serious or fatal complications from infection, you have a low threshold for contacting your doctor.
Dr. Russo stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and getting at least seven hours of sleep each night. “All the things that are good for your health in general are going to help your immune system and longevity,” he says.
“Practicing mindfulness, self-care, and stress management are also important,” says Dr. Kaiser. “It’s incredible the evidence that shows regular meditation can have a huge positive effect on your immune system.”
Ultimately, says Karagianis, “we don’t have an answer for how to live longer.” However, that may come. “Our findings can provide a basis for exploring possible drivers of severe aging that could lead to the discovery of healthy antiaging therapies,” she says.
Corinne Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual and relationship health, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamor, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives on the beach, and hopes to own a cup of tea and a taco truck one day.