Aging Researchers Launch Record-Sized Study to Understand Keys to Exceptional Longevity
According to estimates from the Census Bureau, one in a thousand Americans is above 95. Greater than half of these individuals have immediate family members who've also reached exceptional longevity. According to Nir Barzilai, MD, American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR) Scientific Director, super-agers appear to be biologically younger, allowing them to work longer, enjoy post-retirement interests, and live life to the fullest.
This begs the question: what exactly is driving the biological youthfulness of people who are 95 years of age or older?
While we don’t know exactly, we’re about to find out. The AFAR started a multi-year study in association with Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Boston University College of Medicine and is expected to yield important new insights into what promotes an unusually long and healthy life. “The most promising way to gain scientific knowledge about healthy aging is to look at those who have lived past their 95th birthday,” added Sofiya Milman, MD, MS, the director of Human Longevity Studies at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She will be the principal investigator for the SuperAgers Family Study, which will be conducted in collaboration with AFAR.
Who is a SuperAger?
A person in their 80s or older who demonstrates cognitive capacity comparable to the average middle-aged person is referred to as a SuperAger. In addition, there is less evidence of brain volume decrease in this group. The cortical thickness of 24 SuperAgers and 12 control group members was assessed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The average aging adult loses 2.24 percent of their brain volume annually, but the SuperAgers only lost 1.06 percent. SuperAgers may be more resistant to cognitive loss since they experience a slower rate of brain volume loss than their counterparts.
What’s the SuperAger Initiative?
The SuperAgers Initiative, the largest group ever organized to study the molecular and genetic foundations of remarkable longevity, will start by recruiting the assistance of 10,000 individuals 95 years and older and their family members. Members of this community of SuperAgers will have the chance to celebrate and exchange the "secrets" and tales of their own extraordinarily long lives.
Additionally, they might be qualified to participate in the groundbreaking SuperAgers Family Study, which aims to identify the genetic and biological factors that contribute to highly long lifespans. “The relatively small numbers of these people studied to date has found some genetic drivers of slower aging and helped support new drug development,” said Milman. “That suggests enormous promise for a resource and associated studies that can look much more deeply at this important population.”
The results should contribute to developing new treatments that target the aging processes and may simultaneously treat several age-related diseases and ailments, which is the ultimate objective of the increasing aging (geroscience) scientific community. “There is plenty of important research looking to develop medicines that prevent or treat the diseases of aging,” noted AFAR Executive Director Stephanie Lederman. “Our SuperAgers Initiative is looking to do something different, even if it seems obvious: Instead of studying sickness, we want to figure out what enables some of us to live healthy lives for an exceptionally long number of years.”
Habits of SuperAgers
But while we wait for these results, there have already been some findings of common habits of SuperAgers. Neuroscientist Emily Rogalski, Ph.D., leads the SuperAging study at Northwestern University in Chicago and shares some of the scientists’ findings:
- Active lifestyle: One of the best things you can do as you age is to keep active. Your body receives more oxygen when you exercise, which helps it function at its best. Exercise is good for your heart, and muscle-strengthening workouts specifically decrease falls. You can keep a healthy weight by engaging in regular exercise.
- Challenge yourself: Physical activity and mental activity can both be beneficial. Don't worry if Sudoku or crosswords don't appeal to you. There are various types of mental activity. Try reading a piece on a topic you're unfamiliar with, or enroll in classes that force you to step outside your comfort zone. These will aid in energizing and occupying the brain in novel ways.
- Socialize: According to Dr. Rogalski, SuperAgers frequently have close ties with others. This is supported by the fact that SuperAgers have a larger attention region deep within the brain. Von Economo neurons, which are giant, spindly neurons in this area, are assumed to be involved in social processing and awareness. According to Dr. Rogalski, SuperAgers have more than four to five times as many of these neurons compared to the typical octogenarian.
SuperAgers and Supplements
Several diets have been recommended to promote healthy aging. But it’s hard for people to know the amount of compounds related to longer healthspan—the number of years lived in good health—they're getting in their foods unless they can get and eat those foods repetitively.
One way to get consistent amounts of certain compounds with anti-aging and longevity-promoting qualities is through supplements. ProHealth Longevity did a deep dive into the top 20 compounds for anti-aging and longevity.
Let’s take NMN, for example. A 2016 study found that the following foods contained these levels of NMN:
- Cucumber and cabbage: 0.25 to1.88 milligrams (mg) NMN per 100 grams (g).
- Fruits like avocado and tomato: 0.26 to 1.60 mg NMN per 100 g.
- Raw beef, meat, and shrimp: 0.06 to 0.42 mg NMN per 100 g.
Not only is that highly variable, but NMN, which supports healthy aging, can be bought at fixed amounts—and much higher qualities. To get the 250 mg of NMN that you can get in a lozenge or capsule, you would have to eat up to 10,000 g of cucumber and cabbage…which is more than 22 pounds!
With the clock constantly ticking, it’s never too soon to start reshaping our habits and diets.