Articles featuring advice from centenarians seem to abound these days, with people age 100 or older graciously offering tips for a long and happy life. Indeed, there are more men and women in the demographic alive today than there have been in the past two decades. Many factors are at play in that increase, but a recent study has identified some specific biomarkers that are present in the blood of those who live exceptionally long lives.
Publishing their results in September, a team of scientists out of Sweden, Japan, and Germany looked at data from 44,000 Swedes between the ages of 64 and 99 who underwent health assessments. Those individuals were then tracked for up to 35 years after the initial assessments. Of them, 2.7%, or 1,224 people, lived to be 100 or older.
According to co-author Karin Modig, who wrote about the findings for The Conversation, the research was “the largest study comparing biomarker profiles measured throughout life among exceptionally long-lived people and their shorter-lived peers to date.”
She and her team looked at 12 blood-based biomarkers related to inflammation, metabolism, and liver and kidney function, as well as potential malnutrition and anemia — all of which have previously been associated with aging.
They determined that people who had the lowest levels of iron and cholesterol also had lower chances of living to 100, compared to those with higher levels. Contrastingly, those with higher levels of glucose (blood sugar), creatinine and uric acid (two naturally occurring waste products filtered from the blood by the kidneys), and markers for liver function had decreased likelihoods of becoming centenarians.
“We found that, on the whole, those who made it to their 100th birthday tended to have lower levels of glucose, creatinine, and uric acid from their sixties onwards,” Modig explained. She added that the results indicate a potential link between metabolic health, nutrition, and longevity.
So what does that mean, exactly? While the study didn’t include direct data regarding lifestyles or genetics, Modig believes the findings suggest both play a role in making it to a ripe old age.
“Keeping track of your kidney and liver values, as well as glucose and uric acid as you get older, is probably not a bad idea,” she said.
Previous research has also identified some psychological commonalities among nonagenarians and centenarians.
One 2017 study looked at the personality traits and values of 29 people ages 90-101 in rural Southern Italy. Participants answered questions about their mental and physical well-being, resilience, optimism, anxiety, depression, and perceived stress. Additionally, they were interviewed about their lives, and their family members were asked about their perceptions of their loved ones’ personalities.
The similarities that emerged included optimism, resilience, strong work ethics, and bond with family and religion. “Exceptional longevity was characterized by a balance between acceptance of and grit to overcome adversities along with a positive attitude and close ties to family, religion, and land, providing purpose in life,” the research team concluded.
“These people have been through depressions, they’ve been through migrations, they’ve lost loved ones,” senior author Dr. Dilip Jeste, a geriatric neuropsychiatrist, told Time when the study was published. “In order to flourish, they have to be able to accept and recover from the things they can’t change, but also fight for the things they can.”