People vary a great deal in terms of how they age. Some seem to age relatively quickly and develop age-related illnesses such as heart disease or stroke in their 40s and 50s, whereas others appear to age very slowly, and if they do develop age-related illnesses it may only be toward the end of their very long lives. Within these two extremes are the majority of people who, at least in industrialized nations, have an average life expectancy in their late 70s. Much of the variation around this average appears to be due to differences in environment, behavior, and luck. As in the case of the Seventh Day Adventists, if one has good health habits, they are quite likely to live to an age that many humans appear to be capable of achieving, their late 80s (20 years beyond the age of 60!) (Fraser and Shavlik, 2001). Distinguishing themselves from most Americans, the behavioral traits that lead to such a survival advantage are regular exercise, a frugal vegetarian diet, not smoking, and perhaps having a religious faith is also helpful.

However, what does it take to live to even longer, beyond the nonagenarian years, to age 100 and older? First, it appears that a resistance to disability is necessary. One study retrospectively found that nearly 90% of centenarians were independently functioning at an average age of 92 years (Hitt, Young-Xu, Silver, and Perls, 1999). On the other hand, many of these very old individuals can live with age-related illness(es) for a long period of time (unlike many other older people who die of those diseases) (Evert, Lawler, Bogan, and Perls, 2003). Thus, achieving exceptional old age, with its compression of disability toward the relative end of life, would appear to be a true advantage to which most people would aspire. So, what does it take to live to 100?

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