Exercise and Learning are Key to Longer Lifespan

By Bradley Fox, ‘21

Source: Wikimedia Commons.Caption: Genetic research at the University of Edinburgh has linked specific lifestyle habits such as constant exercise and learning to longer lifespans.

New research published by the University of Edinburgh suggests that simple, daily lifestyle choices can add years onto the average human’s lifespan (1). In a comprehensive analysis of genetic information from over 600,000 people, scientists at Edinburgh were able not only to pinpoint genes that influence specific lifestyle habits, but to discover a clear connection between theses lifestyle habits and the impact they can have on lifespan (1).

Genetic data was taken from 25 separate population studies across Europe, North America, and Australia (2), featuring the analysis of subject data alongside data from their parents in an attempt to broaden the scientists’ understanding of the relationship between shared parental genes and life expectancy (1).
Inevitably, some of the researchers’ results and suggestions bear strong similarity to the common health-related conclusions espoused by the general public and modern media. Smoking, for instance, was found to knock up to “seven years off life expectancy” (2). Body fat- alongside other factors linked to diabetes- has also been found to negatively influence life expectancy, eventually leading scientists to the conclusion that decreased body fat through exercise can add years onto an expected human lifespan (1). Finally, the processes of learning and education were found to lead to a longer life, with “almost a year added for each year spent studying beyond school” (2).What surprised researchers more, however, was the effect that having specific DNA sequences had on life expectancy. Genetic differences in two separate DNA regions-related to cholesterol levels and immune responses, independently- were found to cause differences in lifespan as high as eight months (1, 2). This means that subject within the scope of the study were living longer simply due to the types of genes they contained.
“The power of big data and genetics allow us to compare the effect of different behaviours and diseases in terms of months and years of life lost or gained, and to distinguish between mere association and causal effect” says Professor Jim Wilson of the the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute. Wilson enforces the powerful notion- now supported with concrete, quantifiable genetic research- that a few specific life choices can increase our life on Earth.

(1) Peter K. Joshi, Nicola Pirastu, Katherine A. Kentistou, Krista Fischer, Edith Hofer, Katharina E. Schraut, David W. Clark, Teresa Nutile, Catriona L. K. Barnes, Paul R. H. J. Timmers, Xia Shen, Ilaria Gandin, Aaron F. McDaid, Thomas Folkmann Hansen, Scott D. Gordon, Franco Giulianini, Thibaud S. Boutin, Abdel Abdellaoui, Wei Zhao, Carolina Medina-Gomez, Traci M. Bartz, Stella Trompet, Leslie A. Lange, Laura Raffield, Ashley van der Spek, Tessel E. Galesloot, Petroula Proitsi, Lisa R. Yanek, Lawrence F. Bielak, Antony Payton, Federico Murgia, Maria Pina Concas, Ginevra Biino, Salman M. Tajuddin, Ilkka Seppälä, Najaf Amin, Eric Boerwinkle, Anders D. Børglum, Archie Campbell, Ellen W. Demerath, Ilja Demuth, Jessica D. Faul, Ian Ford, Alessandro Gialluisi, Martin Gögele, MariaElisa Graff, Aroon Hingorani, Jouke-Jan Hottenga, David M. Hougaard, Mikko A. Hurme, M. Arfan Ikram, Marja Jylhä, Diana Kuh, Lannie Ligthart, Christina M. Lill, Ulman Lindenberger, Thomas Lumley, Reedik Mägi, Pedro Marques-Vidal, Sarah E. Medland, Lili Milani, Reka Nagy, William E. R. Ollier, Patricia A. Peyser, Peter P. Pramstaller, Paul M. Ridker, Fernando Rivadeneira, Daniela Ruggiero, Yasaman Saba, Reinhold Schmidt, Helena Schmidt, P. Eline Slagboom, Blair H. Smith, Jennifer A. Smith, Nona Sotoodehnia, Elisabeth Steinhagen-Thiessen, Frank J. A. van Rooij, André L. Verbeek, Sita H. Vermeulen, Peter Vollenweider, Yunpeng Wang, Thomas Werge, John B. Whitfield, Alan B. Zonderman, Terho Lehtimäki, Michele K. Evans, Mario Pirastu, Christian Fuchsberger, Lars Bertram, Neil Pendleton, Sharon L. R. Kardia, Marina Ciullo, Diane M. Becker, Andrew Wong, Bruce M. Psaty, Cornelia M. van Duijn, James G. Wilson, J. Wouter Jukema, Lambertus Kiemeney, André G. Uitterlinden, Nora Franceschini, Kari E. North, David R. Weir, Andres Metspalu, Dorret I. Boomsma, Caroline Hayward, Daniel Chasman, Nicholas G. Martin, Naveed Sattar, Harry Campbell, Tōnu Esko, Zoltán Kutalik, James F. Wilson. Genome-wide meta-analysis associates HLA-DQA1/DRB1 and LPA and lifestyle factors with human longevity. Nature Communications, 2017; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00934-5

(2) University of Edinburgh. “Learning and staying in shape key to longer lifespan, study finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 October 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171013091012.htm>

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