More and more people are living longer and when asked if they want to live to age 100, an overwhelming 69% of Americans say “yes,” according to a new poll

To what extent do genetics play a role in longevity and how much does a healthy lifestyle offset genetic traits? We asked Dr. Manisha Parulekar, M.D, Director, Division of Geriatrics, Hackensack University Medical Center, Co-Director, Center for Memory Loss and Brain Health to share her expertise.

“People are living longer and we continue to see growth of lifespan in those living past 85,” said Dr. Parulekar.  “There is a strong genetic complement. There is data and notion that genetics do play a significant role in longevity.” 

However, genetics aren’t the only contributing factor. Dr. Parulekar states that she provides care to patients who have chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol who are still living to 100 years old.  Not all 85+ patients are disease free. So how are they continuing to live such long lives?

“Some of these patients have a good social support system. Some are able to support themselves financially, and have access to good care. That goes a long way. These patients might not have as many needs in the social determinants of health, therefore increasing their chances of living longer.”

The combination of genetics and external factors are critical when speaking about increasing lifespan.  “Genetics also have a lot to do with social determinants of health,” says Dr. Parulekar. 

Positive lifestyle changes such as diet, behavior and sleep may influence epigenetic changes, the altering of the physical structure of DNA. Overtime, this may reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and more. 

100 year old patient Laura Yanitelli, a former Registered Dietitian who now lives in Rutherford New Jersey, agrees that the key to longevity goes beyond good genes.

“Have a good mediterranean diet. Always keep active - physically and mentally.  Have a good sense of humor and always stay positive,” said Laura.  “I have good access to care. I have excellent doctors who are very caring and very dedicated. “

Understanding the contributing factors to longevity is very complex, but we are aware that the combination of lifestyle and genetics contribute to an increasing lifespan.