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Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits after 80 may be a key factor for living to age 100 and beyond. coldsnowstorm/Getty Images
  • A new study has found a link between a healthy lifestyle and longevity.
  • People were more likely to live to 100 if they had a healthy lifestyle in their 80s.
  • Key lifestyle factors included not smoking, eating a diverse diet, and exercising.
  • Other studies on longevity have also identified a sense of community as important.

It seems more people today are living to be centenarians; that is, people who have managed to live to the ripe old age of 100 or more.

According to the Pew Research Center, centenarians currently comprise only 0.03% of the U.S. population. However, that number is expected to quadruple, reaching 0.1% by 2054.

But what is the secret to reaching an advanced age? Is it luck, good genes, or, as 110-year-old Agnes Fenton told ABC7 in 2015, daily beer and whiskey?

While many of these factors might play some role, a group of Chinese researchers says that living a healthy lifestyle in your later years can be an important determinant of your longevity.

The authors wrote in their study, which was published on June 20, 2024, in JAMA Network Open, that most previous studies focusing on lifestyle and life expectancy have concentrated on the effect of lifestyle factors in middle-aged and older individuals.

They wanted to examine the effects on people 80 and up, particularly to learn how likely they were to become centenarians.

To study the issue, they used data from the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey, one of the largest studies looking at this age group.

Just over 5,200 people were included in the study, with about 62% of them being female. Their average age was 94.3.

Using this data, the researchers calculated a healthy lifestyle for a 100 (HLS-100) score, with scores ranging from 0 to 6. Factors like smoking, exercise, and whether people ate a diverse diet were included.

The researchers then followed the group over the ensuing years to observe whether they reached their 100th birthday.

Those who passed away before reaching centenarian status were used as the control group.

After taking into account other factors — such as people’s level of education, marital status, BMI, alcohol consumption, and any chronic medical conditions they had — it was found that healthy lifestyles in the 80-year-plus research subjects were associated with a likelihood of reaching age 100.

However, Dr. Su Hlaing Hnin, a board certified internal medicine physician with Medical Offices of Manhattan and a contributor to LabFinder, commented on the study, cautioning that association is not the same as causation. “[T]hese results should be taken with a grain of salt,” she said.

She also noted certain limitations to the study, including the fact that people’s lifestyle behaviors were self-reported and, therefore, prone to bias and error.

“Some of these behaviors are hard to quantify,” she explained, “such as exercise activity time and intensity.”

Hnin further stated that socioeconomic status, which can greatly influence longevity, was also not accounted for.

“Hence, these findings should be interpreted with precaution,” she concluded.

Hnin said that for the purposes of the study, a healthy lifestyle was based on three aspects: smoking, exercise, and dietary diversity.

Delving more into the specifics of a healthy lifestyle for people over 80, Dan Gallagher, a Registered Dietitian with Aegle Nutrition, explained that while a healthy lifestyle may look slightly different for each person, certain things can help everyone.

“Remaining active is top of the list on remaining healthy long into old age,” he said, “along with a sense of community.”

While a sense of community was not one of the factors studied by the authors of the current study, Gallagher noted that people living in the Blue Zones, which are distinct geographic areas known for the greater longevity of their residents, tend to have a deep sense of community that helps them remain active and outside on a daily basis.

“Add to that a diet that’s rich in healthy, lean proteins and fats, and you have a recipe for longevity,” he explained.

Gallagher further remarked that a person’s diet will largely depend on their specific nutritional needs. However, as people age, they tend to require more protein than they did in their youth.

“Make sure you’re meeting your protein needs and giving your brain healthy fats and you’ll find it’s easier to remain active within your community,” he said.

Finally, per the authors of the study, not smoking is also an important key to longevity. It is well-established that smoking increases a person’s risk of premature death, while quitting smoking lessens this risk.

According to the authors of a new study published in JAMA Network Open, having a healthy lifestyle can increase the likelihood that 80-year-olds will live to the age of 100.

The study identified not smoking, having a diverse diet, and exercising as lifestyle factors associated with becoming a centenarian.

Although it was not included in the study, experts say having a sense of community is also an important factor in longevity that has been identified by other researchers.