Old and Healthy? Thank Your Genes


At 98, Harold Laufman plays the violin, prepares dinner for relatives and throws a joint birthday party with his 31-year-old neighbor. He is writing a book about life after 95 and calls his girlfriend “feisty.” The retired surgeon says, “I wake up every morning with an agenda for the day.”

According to research published August 3 in the online edition of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Laufman probably owes his longevity to the genes he inherited. Dr. Nir Barzilai, Chair of Aging Research and Director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, was lead researcher in a study that looked at over 500 Ashkenazi Jews. All were between ages 95 and 117 and were living independently. Three quarters were women. They were enrolled in the Longevity Genes Project.

The advantage of focusing on the Ashkenazi Jews was their genetic homogeneity. A trained interviewer asked questions about their lifestyles at age 70ódrinking and smoking, diet and exercise. The results were compared with responses from 3,164 people surveyed for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted between 1971 and 1975.

Genes trump lifestyle

Genetics proved a stronger predictor of longevity than lifestyle. Many of the centenarians drank, smoke and got little exercise, though a smaller percentage were obese than in the general population.

If that sounds like permission to be couch potatoes on junk-food diets, think again. Most of us did not inherit the longevity genes that give an edge in the aging game. Dr. Barzilai said, “Although this study demonstrates that centenarians can be obese, smoke and avoid exercise, those lifestyle habits are not good choices for most of us who do not have a family history of longevity. We should watch our weight, avoid smoking and be sure to exercise, since these activities have been shown to have great health benefits for the general population, including a longer lifespan.”

What Dr. Barzilai does hope is that science can give us the means to delay age-related illnesses. He is inspired by the centenarians he studies and wants to help others maintain a high quality of life as they age. In the video below, he says, “I don’t know what age I want to achieve, but I want to achieve it healthy.”

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Photo from Urbankudos via Flickr Creative Commons


Jo S.
Jo S2 years ago

No, I can't afford it!

Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo4 years ago

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Interesting article - minus video, thank you.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Interesting article - minus video, thank you.

Joe R.
Joe R5 years ago

I can't afford to live that long.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

lies. everyone knows it is 100% a vegan diet. thats what "they" told me.

SUDHIR SAJWAN6 years ago

Thanks a lot its quite inspiring I feel I may also go on the path lead by them,I hv compleated my53 years and I feel myself as young as 25.I wish all msy live long and healthy.

Ellie Damann
.6 years ago


Glen P.
Glen P6 years ago

I would LOVE to live to 100 or even much longer, but only if in good health.

But even if in perfect healthy I wouldn't want to live for 5,000 Million Billion Trillion Quadrillion years to the googolplex power (which doesn't even begin scratch the surface of eternity), like religious people apparently are imagining when they pine about everlasting life.

Betsy M.
Betsy M6 years ago

No. Not genetics. Cohesive, positive culture.