Want to live to 100? (Issue 22, 2012)
With over 4 000 Australians aged 100 and over, La Trobe University centenarian expert Dr John McCormack says working hard and not being overweight are the most common characteristics among the 130 centenarians and super-centenarians he interviewed throughout his research.
‘It’s assumed that genes have quite a strong impact for longevity. But there are environmental influences as well and I’ve found that most of the people have lived fairly healthy lives.
‘Most of them are from a different era, so all of the jobs they had then were physically hard. We didn't have as much food as we have now and when I do a body mass index in my studies, I haven't found any centenarian in Australia overweight.’
Health advancements and disease control are aiding the rising number of people aged 100 and over, which doubles every eight years. However, staying active and being independent are also components to living longer.
‘We have this stereotype older people are frail and decrepit, in a nursing home and not able to do anything for themselves.
‘Whereas I’ve found that more than half the people aged 100 live in the community, not in a skilled nursing facility,’ says Dr McCormack.
He also says that although the gender gap is closing, women still predominate among centenarians.
‘Out of the 130 people I sampled 80 per cent were women. Women tend to look after themselves better than men, health-wise.
‘More than a third of my sample had no children, which is a bit over the standard representation in the census.
‘If they did have children, women often had them in their forties. It seems like they'd delayed, or pushed menopause back a little bit, which may be an indication that somehow or other they were aging a bit more slowly.’
Butt out: Dr McCormack found very few smokers among centenarians and says the ones who did smoke gave up at an early age.
Unmarried men: Dr McCormack found in his study of 130 centenarians and super-centenarians that men that reached age 100 tend to live longer than women and many of those men were unmarried.
72 the new 65: Dr McCormack says that life tables have changed and added seven years to life expectancy at age 65, ‘as centenarians re-define old age, 65 is almost like a prime age again, I think that 72 is the new 65.’