What’s the secret sauce you need to become a centenarian…100 years old?
Good genes help. But a Washington State University medical student and faculty researchers have identified other factors as well.
Medical student Rajan Bhardwaj took on a summer research project inspired by his own life experience growing up in Seattle. “I was a caregiver for my grandfather for a few years. He had a ton of underlying medical conditions, like heart failure, kidney failure."
But he also lived to see his 87th birthday. How?
“He had great social support at home. He had great access to physicians. He always lived in safe and walkable neighborhoods, which was great for him because he never learned how to drive, so I was interested in learning more about those factors," he said.
Bhardwaj worked with Professor Ofer Amram, who was the study’s senior author, to get access to basic mortality statistics from people 75 and older who died in Washington between 2011 and 2015.
"Then we got from other sources data about poverty level, access to transit and primary care, walkability, percentage of working age population, rural/urban status, air pollution and green space exposure," Bhardwaj said.
They found genetics played a role in some of the people who lived into their 80s, 90s and 100s. But they say environmental and behavioral factors were often as or more important. People thrived when they could get proper medical care, when they could get out and exercise regularly, when they lived among people who had a mixed range of ages.
They say some neighborhoods in Seattle with lots of services were especially conducive to people living long lives. That was the case for his grandfather.
“He always had easy access to public transit. He was able to walk outside whenever he wanted. It was a great way for him to socialize with neighbors and everything," he said.
Bhardwaj says he also found a few rural areas and smaller cities, such as Pullman, where older people thrive.
The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.