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Learning and staying in shape key to longer lifespan
October 29, 2017, 3:27 pm

The idea that lifestyle choices are influenced to a certain degree by our DNA has received a boost from scientists at Edinburgh University in Scotland, studying genes that underpin longevity. The study found that people who are overweight cut their life expectancy by two months for every extra kilogram of weight they carry and that a year spent studying beyond school added almost a year to a person’s longevity. Other key findings are that people who give up smoking and are open to new experiences might expect to live longer.

Scientists analyzed genetic information from more than 600,000 people alongside records of their parents' lifespan. Because people receive half of their genetic information from each of their parents, the team was able to calculate the impact of various genes on life expectancy.

Their method was designed to rule out the chances that any observed associations could be caused by a separate, linked factor. This enabled them to pinpoint exactly which lifestyle factors cause people to live longer, or shorter, lives.

They found that cigarette smoking and traits associated with lung cancer had the greatest impact on shortening lifespan. Smoking a packet of cigarettes per day over a lifetime knocks an average of seven years off the smoker’s life. Body fat and other factors linked to diabetes also have a negative influence on life expectancy.

The study also identified two new DNA differences that affect lifespan. The first — in a gene that affects blood cholesterol levels — reduces lifespan by around eight months. The second — in a gene linked to the immune system — adds around half a year to life expectancy.

Using the power of big data and genetics allowed the scientists to compare the effect of different behaviors and diseases in terms of months and years of life lost or gained, and to distinguish between mere association and causal effect.

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