Study fine-tunes the secrets of the ‘super-agers’

Revelations of a 15-year study of the aged.

Secrets of the ‘super-agers’

Want to know the secret to a long and healthy life? Doesn’t everyone?

There are studies and studies, and the ones that present findings gleaned from a big group of participants over a lengthy time have clout. Take, for instance, the 90+ Study initiated in 2003 in the United States and involving 14,000 people.

Researchers from the Clinic for Ageing Research and Education (CARE), in Laguna Woods, California, quizzed participants every six months over the last 15 years. They conducted neurological, neuropsychological, cognitive and physical tests. They gathered and assessed information relating to diet, physical and social activities, medical history and medications, and performed brain scans on anyone who died during the study. They were intent on understanding the ‘super-agers’, the people who lived to 90 and beyond. 

Researchers have already published several scientific papers, but continue to update and add to their findings.

Among the latest:

  • people who drank moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee lived longer than those who abstained
  • People who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than normal or underweight people
  • more than 40 per cent of people aged 90 and older suffered from dementia; almost 80 per cent were disabled and both conditions were more common in women than men
  • about half of those with dementia over the age of 90 did not have sufficient neuropathology in their brain to explain their cognitive loss.

In other positive news for older Australians, Heather Snyder, senior doctor of medical and scientific operations at the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association, said: “What's bad for you in mid-life might not be bad for you in later life. But we have to think about what that means in the underlying biology and what we can apply to future understanding.”

90+ study author Claudia Kawas said there was, as yet, no explanation for the finding that those who drank a couple of glasses of wine or beer per day were more likely to live longer, compared to abstainers. “That’s been shown all over the world,” she said. “I have no explanation for it, but I do firmly believe that modest drinking is associated with longevity.”

“Modest” caffeine intake was also associated with living longer. “The sweet spot for caffeine was 200–400 milligrams (about two cups of coffee) a day,” said Ms Kawas. “People who took this much coffee or tea lived longer than people who consumed more or less caffeine.”

Exercise, unsurprisingly, was another key factor in longevity. People who got as little as 15 minutes per day had an advantage over those who did little or no exercise, and the effect was magnified when exercise was increased to 30 and 45 minutes per day. Beyond that, there was no huge benefit.

Having a hobby was also linked to longevity and to ageing well.

One finding which puzzled researchers was that people who were overweight in their 70s tended to live longer. “It’s not bad to be skinny when you’re young, but it’s very bad to be skinny when you’re old,” Ms Kawas said.

The study noted that most of the factors listed helped people age better physically, but not necessarily in terms of better cognition. While exercise increases blood flow and oxygen transfer which help to maintain or build the brain’s plasticity, that did not always result in improved mental capacity.

Autopsies showed that some people had extensive Alzheimer’s pathology—plaques and tangles, yet had not exhibited symptoms, while conversely, people with very little brain “gunk” sometimes had significant symptoms of dementia.

There’s work to be done.



    To make a comment, please register or login

    16th Mar 2018
    Quality of life is fair more important to me than quantity of life.
    The Other Judith
    16th Mar 2018
    I'll drink to that!
    16th Mar 2018
    According to various studies, B12 deficiency is a common cause of mental confusion in people over 60 and is often misdiagnosed as dementia.
    Post mortems on Alzheimer patients sometimes found no indications that they actually had Alzheimers.
    So if you, or a family member is worried about the odd memory lapse pop a B12 supplement or get an in depth B12 evaluation. B12 supplements are definitely a staple in my medicine cupboard.
    16th Mar 2018
    I am curious about "People who were overweight in their 70s lived longer". This result seems counterintuitive. I expect this is a statistically true but perhaps shows that most westerners are overweight but a significant percentage of low weight people have chronic medical issues and therefore a short life expectancy. There may be plenty of people not overweight and living long/well, but there are enough chronically sick light weight people to sway the statistics? The link to the actual study would be interesting...
    16th Mar 2018
    Um ??? To have long and healthy life you have to start young
    16th Mar 2018
    So this week alcohol is good again. Dear God aren't I glad I didn't give it up last week when it was bad for me. I'll have to give these new finding serious consideration over my pre dinner brandy. Ha ha
    16th Mar 2018
    Re dementia/alzheimers I was just reading that some NUNS when they passed donated their brains to medical research and that it was found that in many when autopsied that there was much brain plaque and tangles YET there had been no OUTWARD signs of those diseases!
    16th Mar 2018
    Do you think a lack of sex is responsible?
    16th Mar 2018
    Your making a common assumption there Tib.
    16th Mar 2018
    Ha ha.
    16th Mar 2018
    If you've got a genetically inherited disease it doesn't matter what you do--you're stuck with it.

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