Centenarians on the rise

THERE'S the old joke about how to get to 100. Get to 99 and then be very careful.

But, these days, as medical advances mean surgeons will eventually know how to replace worn-out body parts or treat diseases that interfere with the quality of old age, many of us might aspire to make it to our 11th decade.

The question, of course, is how.

And the answer, it turns out, while scientists investigate such complex proposals as maintaining the length of telomeres (natural sheaths that protect our chromosomes from deterioration) may be more accessible and inexpensive than you imagined.

While we are forever being told to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, many of us don't take this advice to heart.

A new Swedish study has found a definitive link between fruit and vegetable consumption and lifespan.

It's this simple: those who eat fewer than the recommended minimum of five portions a day are not likely to live as long as those who do.

That said, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, did not find an additional benefit, in terms of more years of life, in eating more than five servings of fruit or vegetables a day.

In other words, you may not need to overdo it or even make drastic changes.

Their research, which will be published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved more than 70,000 men and women and spanned 13 years of the lives of participants who were aged from 45 to 83.

Here's the cruncher: Those who said they never ate fruit and vegetables had lives cut short by an average of three years, and were 53% more likely to die during the follow-up.

Those who did not eat their greens also tended to be smokers, less educated and eat more red meat, high-fat dairy, snacks and sweets.

This latest research is in line with leading opinion on how to get to 100 with futuristic scientific intervention or extreme measures like severe kilojoule restriction.

Rather than frantically search for miracle products to "reverse" aging, you will have far more impact on longevity from regular exercise, quitting smoking and improving your diet, says geriatrician Dr Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study - the largest genetic study of centenarians in the world.

Being female helps too. Women far outnumber men in centenarian circles, by 85% to 15%.

The reason: women are physiologically stronger, able to survive chronic diseases, while men are more likely to die of heart attacks or cancer at younger ages, say experts.

Other factors in favour of living a long life: a healthy weight, managing stress well, a good sense of humour and a strong support network, says Dr Perls. He adds that genes also play an important role.

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Growing numbers are growing old

  • Australians are aging in far great numbers.
  • People over 90 years are the fastest growing section of the demographic, according to the University of New South Wales.
  • This is particularly true of the centenarians, the exceptional group of individuals who reach the age of 100.
  • According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006 Census, there were 21,805 people 95-99 years old and 2860 100+.
  • It is estimated that there will be 12,000 centenarians in Australia by 2020 and 50,000 by 2050; the number of centenarians worldwide is estimated to increase 15-fold, to 2.2 million by 2050.

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