US study finds living environment, socioeconomic status greatly impact longevity

June 23, 2020

A living environment that supports healthy aging is more likely to influence longevity rather than good genes. According to a new study conducted at Washington State University’s (WSU) Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, Washingtonians who live in highly walkable, mixed-age communities may be able to live to their 100th birthday, as will those located in urban areas and smaller towns with higher socioeconomic status. It was also found that women were more likely to reach centenarian age compared to men.

“We know from previous research that you can modify, through behaviour, your susceptibility to different diseases based on your genetics,” highlighted Ofer Amram, an assistant professor who runs WSU’s Community Health and Spatial Epidemiology (CHaSE) lab. Amran contributed to this study together with Rajan Bhardwaj, a second-year WSU medical student, and other WSU scholars.

After looking at state-provided data about the deaths of nearly 145,000 Washingtonians who died at age 75 or older between 2011 and 2015, including variables such as poverty level, access to transit and primary care, walkability, percentage of working age population, rural-urban status, air pollution, and green space exposure, the researchers found that neighbourhood walkability, higher socioeconomic status, and a high percentage of working age population (a measure of age diversity) were positively correlated with reaching centenarian status.

“These findings indicate that mixed-age communities are very beneficial for everyone involved,” said Bhardwaj. “They also support the big push in growing urban centres 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 added that neighbourhoods that offer more age diversity tend to be in urban areas, where older adults are likely to experience less isolation and more community support.

While the exact environmental and social factors that best supports living to centenarian age has yet to be determined, the researchers said the study findings could already be used to create healthier communities that promote longevity in older adults.

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Category: Features, Wellness and Complementary Therapies

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