Genetic Research Uncovers Traits Associated With Longer Life

Scientists are digging deeper into the secrets of longevity.

Posted Oct 18, 2017

Geralt/Pixabay, used with permission.
Source: Geralt/Pixabay, used with permission.

A large study of the genetic basis of human longevity highlights the influence of DNA on lifestyle choices and how these influences, in turn, are related to longevity. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh looked at 25 population studies and analyzed genetic data from more than 600,000 men and women from North America, Europe, and Australia, and compared the results to their parents’ lifespan. These correlates of longevity, published in the October 13, 2017, issue of the journal Nature Communications, included the following:

  • Getting smart. Every year of education you have beyond high school could add 11 months to your expected lifespan. Other studies have also found increased longevity among those with at least one year of college and although there is not a direct cause and effect, researchers suspect that people with more education are more likely to live a healthier lifestyle and less likely to engage in dangerous and unhealthy activities.
  • Not smoking (and quitting if you do). In this study, smoking and other traits associated with lung cancer were most strongly linked to a shorter life. When you quit smoking, your expected lifespan returns, over time, to that of a nonsmoker.
  • Being open-minded. The researchers found that those who were curious and tended to explore new experiences were more likely to live longer than those who were more cautious.
  • Increased HDL cholesterol. HDL is the “healthy” or protective form of cholesterol that travels through your bloodstream and carries fat away from your heart. In this study, researchers identified genetic differences in people that affect blood cholesterol levels. Three things you can do to increase your HDL levels are to lose weight, get more exercise, and quit smoking, if necessary. Diets rich in omega- fatty acids from oily fish, walnuts, flaxseed products, and fortified foods have also been found to raise HDL.

The researchers also homed in on the factors most likely to shorten your life. These include susceptibility to coronary artery disease, cigarette smoking, lung cancer, insulin resistance, and excess body fat. For example, they estimate that a lifetime of smoking can knock seven years off your life and that every increase in body mass unit can reduce your lifespan by seven months. For every two pounds of excess body weight lost, you can increase your lifespan by two months. Additionally, the researchers found correlations between some of the longevity traits and factors that lengthen or shorten your life. For instance, higher education is linked to quitting smoking, and increased body mass is correlated with coronary artery disease.


Joshi PK, Pirastu N, Kentistou K, et al. Genome-wide meta-analysis associates HLA-DQA1/DRB1 and LPA and lifestyle factors with human longevity. Nature Communications. Published online October 13, 2017; 8(1). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00934-5

Hausenloy DJ, Yellon DM. Targeting Residual Cardiovascular Risk: Raising high-density lipoprotein cholseterol levels. Postgraduate Medical Journal. November 2008;84(997):590-598.

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