The secret to living long, healthy lives and ageing beyond 100 has finally been cracked, according to a new study.
Scientists at Newcastle University say they have identified the key to longevity and good health amongst centenarians and how they pass that gift onto their offspring.
The key factors were having low rates of inflammation in the body, a common contributor to disease in older people, and having long portions of the human cell dedicated to the ageing process known as telomeres.
Telomeres are specialised regions of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells. They recede with age in most people, accelerating the ageing process in the body as they do so.
In the cells of people over 100 who were tested in the study, the ageing control centre of the cell shrunk more slowly - a trait also observed in their children.
Professor Thomas von Zglinicki, from Newcastle University’s Institute of Ageing, said: “Centenarians and super-centenarians are different - put simply, they age slower. They can ward off diseases for much longer than the general population.
“Our data reveals that once you’re really old, telomere length does not predict further successful ageing.
“However, it does show that those who have a good chance to become centenarians and those older than 100 maintain their telomeres better than the general population, which suggests that keeping telomeres long may be necessary or at least helpful to reach extreme old age.”
The study, conducted in partnership with the Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo, aimed to determine the biological traits that predict extreme longevity.
It was comprised of 1,554 individuals, including 684 centenarians, 167 pairs of offspring and 536 very old people. The total group covered ages from around 50 up to the world’s oldest man at 115 years.
The authors of the study said it is hoped these discoveries can be applied to promote similarly successful ageing amongst the general public.
Professor Nobuyoshi Hirose, Head of the Tokyo Centenarians Study, said: “If we can find out what makes centenarians and super-centenarians different it might become possible to improve all our lives as we age.”