The Albert Einstein College of Medicine study found that people who live exceptionally long lives benefit from shorter periods of illness
A new study of centenarians has linked living longer to living healthier.
In the Albert Einstein College of Medicine study of nearly 3,000 people, the onset of illness came decades later in life for centenarians than for their younger counterparts.
"Most people struggle with an ever-increasing burden of disease and disability as they age," said study leader Nir Barzilai.
"But we found that those who live exceptionally long lives have the additional benefit of shorter periods of illness -- sometimes just weeks or months -- before death," the leader added.
The researchers looked at the health status of centenarians and near-centenarians enrolled in two ongoing studies: the Longevity Genes Project (LGP) and the New England Centenarian Study (NECS).
This study compared the health status of 483 long-lived LGP participants with 696 LGP comparison individuals aged 60-94 and the health status of 1,498 long-lived NECS participants with 302 NECS comparison subjects aged 58-95.
For both sets of comparisons, the researchers looked at the ages at which individuals developed five major age-related health problems: cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, and stroke.
Analysis revealed a consistent pattern of delayed onset of illness in the LGP and NECS centenarian groups compared to their respective comparison groups.
For example, for the long-lived NECS individuals, cancer didn't afflict 20 per cent of men until age 97 and women until 99.
In contrast, 20 per cent of NECS comparison participants had developed cancer by age 67 in men and 74 in women. Results were similar for the LGP: for the long-lived LGP participants, the age at which 20 per cent had developed cancer was delayed to 96 for both sexes.
But cancer had affected 20 per cent of LGP control group males by age 78 and control group females by 74.
Despite their genetic, social and cultural differences, the long-lived LGP and NECS participants proved markedly similar with respect to major illness.
Compared to younger comparison groups, their onset of major age-related disease was delayed, with serious illness essentially compressed into a few years very late in life.
The findings suggest that discoveries made in one group of centenarians can be generalised to diverse populations. And they contradict the notion that the older people get, the sicker they become and the greater the cost of taking care of them.
The study appears in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.