Maybe she's born with it: Your genetics and Longevity
How much do your genes contribute to your health in old age? Is it inevitable that you will follow in your family's health footsteps? If your gran lived to 90 but our grandfather had Alzheimer's and passed away at 60, what does that mean for you and your children?
The truth is genetics definitely does play a part in our future health. However, there are also a lot of things we can do to improve our longevity if we understand our personal genetics. Though your genes seem like a lottery, if you know your pre-disposed risks then you can make choices now to avoid certain dangers. We will discuss all the different ways throughout our longevity series.
But first, here are a few ways our genes impact our longevity:
Telomere length: Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, and they naturally shorten as a person ages. However, some people are born with longer telomeres, which may be associated with longer lifespans. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with longer telomeres lived longer on average than those with shorter telomeres.
Familial longevity: People whose parents or grandparents lived to a ripe old age may be more likely to live longer themselves. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that people whose siblings lived to age 90 or older were more likely to also live to age 90 or older themselves.
- Genetic variations: Certain genetic variations may be associated with longer lifespans or a reduced risk of certain age-related diseases. For example, some studies have suggested that people with variations in the FOXO3A gene may be more likely to live longer.
So, what is the first step?
There are genetic tests we can do to find out more information about our genetic makeup and give us a better overall understanding of our health. These are simple tests based on drawn blood or saliva. They can be quite expensive in South Africa but the costs are dropping quickly as the technology becomes ever more available
These tests break down your genetics code and show changes in our genes, chromosomes and proteins. Looking at these can show the likelihood of a person developing certain genetic conditions. Some genetic conditions that can be tested for are:
- Bipolar disorder
- Breast & ovarian cancer
- Heart disease
- Vision loss
- Parkinson's disease
Deciding whether to have these tests is a very personal decision and often depends on various factors. One major factor being whether you’ve noticed certain conditions running in your family.
Whatever we decide to do it is good to know that we are more in control of our health than we think we are. It can be very encouraging to know that our longevity can be controlled by the small decisions we make each day and the preventative measures we take now.
This is the third post in our series on Longevity. Over the coming weeks, we will dive into what living a life with a longer healthspan means to you. We will look at factors in our everyday lives that impact our longevity and small (and big) changes we can incorporate into our lives to lengthen our healthspan. Look out for our emails and blog posts so you can start the journey to a life well lived.
Next up: Cleaning up the pollution that surrounds you.