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Longevity Demographics & Statistics Environment

Living Environment May Be Key To Longevity

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Posted on Jun 23, 2020, 4 p.m.

According to a study based on mortality data published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health conducted by scientists at Washington State University where you live has a significant impact on the likelihood of you reaching centenarian age, good genes help but that alone does not tell the full story when it comes to becoming a longevity warrior. 

This study suggests that Washington residents who live in highly walkable, mixed aged communities are more likely to like to reach 100 years of age, and socioeconomic status was also found to be correlated; an additional analysis showed geographic areas in which the probability of reaching centenarian status is high located in urban areas and smaller towns with high socioeconomic status, including the Seattle area and the region around Pullman, Washington. 

"Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that social and environmental factors contribute significantly to longevity," said study author Rajan Bhardwaj, a second-year WSU medical student who took an interest in the topic after serving as a home care aide to his aging grandfather. Earlier research, he said, "has estimated that heritable factors only explain about 20 to 35% of an individual's chances of reaching centenarian age."

"We know from previous research that you can modify, through behavior, your susceptibility to different diseases based on your genetics," explained Ofer Amram, the study's senior author and an assistant professor who runs WSU's Community Health and Spatial Epidemiology (CHaSE) lab.

Findings suggest that living in an environment that supports healthy aging is likely to impact your ability to successfully beat genetic odds via lifestyle changes, but there is a gap in knowledge as to the exact environmental and social factors that make for the best supportive factors to living to become a centenarian. 

The researchers examined state provided data regarding the deaths of close to 145,000 Washington residents who died at the age of 75 or older between 2011-2015; data included information on age, place of residence at the time of death, sex, race, education, and martial status. Based on where they lived data was used from the American Community Survey, Environmental Protection Agency and other sources to assign a value/score to different variables for that neighborhood taking into account poverty level, access to transit and primary care, walkability, air pollution, rural-urban status, percentage of working age population, and green space exposure. 

Using the available data a survival analysis was conducted to determine which neighborhood and demographic factors were linked to a lower probability of dying before reaching centenarian age. Based on these findings neighborhood walkability, higher socioeconomic status, and a high percentage of working age populations were found to be positively correlated with reaching 100 years of age. 

"These findings indicate that mixed-age communities are very beneficial for everyone involved," said Bhardwaj. "They also support the big push in growing urban centers toward making streets more walkable, which makes exercise more accessible to older adults and makes it easier for them to access medical care and grocery stores." Amram goes on to note that neighborhoods that offer more age diversity tend to be in urban areas, where older adults are likely to experience less isolation and more community support.

Bhardwaj suggests that this study highlights the importance of continuing efforts to address health disparities that are experienced by racial minorities. Based on their findings which are consistent with previous research, the data indicates that being white is correlated with living to reach 100 years old, and by gender women are more likely to reach centenarian status. 

For each neighborhood in the state of Washington the researchers calculated the years of potential life lost to investigate which areas of the state in which people had a higher probability of reaching 100 years of age. While mapping out the years of potential life lost for all neighborhoods across the state clusters emerged with a high likelihood of living to centenarian age in higher socioeconomic areas in urban centers and small towns including the greater Seattle area and the Pullman region. 

The team suggests that more work is needed to expand on their findings, and the study could eventually be used to create healthier communities that will help to promote longevity in older adults. 

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