Be Well, Marsha 1/5/16

The law of 100

By Marsha Bonhart
It is something to which most of us aspire. Living to be 100 is what we admire, but only a small percentage achieve. But it makes us all feel so very good when we see the proclamations and accolades about folks who make it to the special group of centenarian and beyond.

Now more research is looking at how people are living longer. Is it because they are fortunate enough to avoid disease or because they possess a secret to the anti aging process? The folks who study growing old—longevity scientists—are steadily trying to figure it out. I’ve even heard if you can escape the typical disorders—high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes or high cholesterol—your chances to live beyond the age of 99 are good.

Here is the chicken-versus-egg theory at work. Do centenarians live long because they don’t get those maladies, or are they protected against the diseases that most of us get?

Taking a look at what has been found so far, apparently, there is some special secret that protects against what happens to you when you get old.  Some studies show centenarians have just as many genes that contribute to disease as people with more average life spans. There is now an area of dispute.

Stanford University researcher Stuart Kim led a team that found centenarians actually may have fewer genes that contribute to major chronic disease. Information from Dr. Kim’s research showed they don’t experience as much disease as people who don’t live as long. His thoughts produced five regions of longevity. Four are connected to Alzheimer’s Disease, heart disease, A B O blood type and the area of the immune system that needs matching for organ transplantation. The Alzheimer’s gene is connected to a shorter life span. The genes for heart disease are linked to the life span of a cell, but O blood type has a connection to better health. There is not much known about the final, fifth region of Kim’s research other than its mutations can contribute to some neurological diseases and that in some insects, there are mutations that help bugs like fruit flies live longer.

“There is a really, really strong dogma in the field that there was a depletion of disease genes in centenarians and that all of their survival benefit was coming from protection from anti-aging genes. I think they were wrong,” Kim says.

What the Stanford study showed is the way centenarians reach their second century may involve more than just being blessed with anti-aging genes. Additional information shows they live longer at least because they don’t get sick, and Kim says they may benefit from some unknown anti aging factor.

A CBS Reports article reflected on correspondent Lesley Stahl and her 60 Minutes contribution from last year. She visited a retirement community in California about the results of a study that showed people from that community over the age of 90 had a couple of drinks of alcohol every day. The result was the small daily amounts reduced the risk of death. That may shock some, but not anyone who saw the 40-year-old report issued by another veteran 60 Minutes correspondent. Morley Safer’s information showed that living to be 100 or more in the village of Abkhazia, on the south border of Russia, is typical. In fact, to support Stahl’s findings, drinking alcohol may contribute to the longevity in that village. The doctors in that area told Safer “the quantity of wine and alcohol they consumed may have shielded them from disease.”

Safer met, at the time, the oldest living person living in Russia and attended her 135th birthday party. He watched as she smoked cigarettes and threw back a big glass of alcohol, as the article read. Now, by our standards, the birthday girl’s partying would lead to a shorter life but there were other efforts—those villagers seemed to lead stress-free lives. One doctor told Safer it was rare for the residents to utter harsh words and their families enjoyed close relationships. So the veteran journalist considered life lessons he has learned along the way: Food from the earth, not a can, hard physical labor, not the leisure years and an unbreakable belief in family life that makes age more important than youth or wealth and that old age should be looked upon as the most important time of life.

So, are some of us just lucky or do we adopt the lifestyle of our genetically healthy family members from a few generations back? We can hike the odds of hitting 100. Concentrate on eating habits—load up on fruit and vegetables daily. Get physically active and cut down on stress, and like the villagers in southern Russia, don’t speak harsh words. Just changing those parts of your lifestyle could add up to at least 13 additional years to kick it around with your great, great grandchildren. I know they would love to get to know you.

Be well,


Marsha Bonhart is an assistant vice president of public relations and programs at Wilberforce University, the nation’s first private, historically black college. Reach her at

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