Offspring of centenarians have been found to have lipid profiles associated with lower risk for cardiovascular disease (Barzilai, Gabriely, Gabriely, Iankowitz, and Sorkin, 2001). Other findings show that middle-aged sons of long-lived parents had better systolic pressures, cholesterol levels, and decreased frequencies of the apoE fi-4 allele, compared to middle-aged sons of shorter-lived parents. Using a questionnaire-based cross-sectional study design, Terry and colleagues (2004) assessed the health histories of a nationwide sample of centenarian offspring (n = 176) and controls (n = 166). The controls consisted of offspring whose parents were born in the same years as the centenarians but at least one of whom died at age 73, the average life expectancy for that birth cohort. The average age at death of the other parent was 77 years, the same as the spouses of the centenarians. Centenarian offspring were found to have a 56% reduced relative prevalence of heart disease, a 66% reduced relative prevalence of hypertension, and a 59% reduced relative prevalence of diabetes in multi-variate analyses that controlled for age, gender, years of education, annual income, IADL score, ethnicity, marital status, exercise, smoking, and alcohol use. There were no significant differences in the prevalence of a number of other age-related diseases including cancer, stroke, dementia, osteoporosis, cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, depression, Parkinson's disease, thyroid disease, and COPD. The lack of differences for these diseases may be a function of the sample size, the choice of controls, or it may be that families with exceptional longevity do not have differential susceptibility to these diseases. For the offspring of centenarians who did report hypertension, the age of onset was significantly later when compared to controls. Similar delays were noted for the age of onset of coronary heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
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For centuries, ever since the legendary Ponce de Leon went searching for the elusive Fountain of Youth, people have been looking for ways to slow down the aging process. Medical science has made great strides in keeping people alive longer by preventing and curing disease, and helping people to live healthier lives. Average life expectancy keeps increasing, and most of us can look forward to the chance to live much longer lives than our ancestors.