The oldest verified person ever is Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122 years and 164 days. When someone lives so long, it makes us wonder what the secret is. Does it lie in the genes? What makes the difference? Is it important where people live or the way they live? Is it something they do or do not do? In our research we explore the role of health, lifestyle, and social environment on the probability of reaching a very advanced age. Findings from our studies suggest that survival after 75 was associated with health status, lifestyle, genetic factors, and a combination of those factors1,2. Dementing and cardiovascular disorders were the major causes of shorter life after living four years on average with the disease. In addition, people with dementia lived half of this period in moderate/severe disease phases. People with healthy lifestyles and rich social networks lived about five years longer than persons with high risk profiles. These associations, although attenuated, were also found in individuals aged 85 years and older and those with chronic diseases. Finally, preliminary results showed that allelic variations in four genes (APOC1, APOE, IDE, and PI3K) were associated with a higher mortality rate, but these effects were counteracted by healthy lifestyle. This suggests that people with genetic susceptibility may reduce their initial mortality rate by modifying their life habits. Further, the benefits from smoking cessation, increased physical activity, and social engagement continue into late life.

  1. Rizzuto D, Orsini N, Qiu C, Wang HX, Fratiglioni L. Lifestyle, social factors, and survival after age 75: population based study. BMJ 2012; 345:e5568.
  2. Rizzuto D, Bellocco R, Kivipelto M, Clerici F, Wimo A, Fratiglioni L. Dementia after age 75: survival in different severity stages and years of life lost. Curr Alzheimer Res 2012: 9(7):795-800.