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Living to over 120 could soon be possible, say Spanish scientists
IF YOU live in Málaga or the town of Melide in A Coruña province, you're statistically more likely to live to over 100, according to official figures – but although Spain has four 'super-centenarians', defined as residents aged over 110, and in excess of 17,000 aged 100 or more as at the beginning of this year, the country still does not hold the record for the most residents who can lay claim to being in their second century of life.
The so-called 'blue zones' – areas on Earth where the number of people aged 100-plus is the highest and where they remain in the best health possible for their great ages – are Okinawa (Japan), the island of Icarus (Greece), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Loma Linda (USA) and the island of Sardinia (Italy).
And scientists now believe it will not be long before humans break through the 120-year barrier, currently thought to be the natural limit of life for the species no matter how optimum their health.
Some have gone a step further and believe that babies born in the year 2050 will, in most western countries, have a typical life expectancy of in region of 120 years.
At present, this is 83.2 years for Spain – the fourth-highest in the world – being 80.4 for men and 85.9 for women.
Although, clearly, DNA has a strong influence on how long a person is likely to live – some families have a relatively high incidence of their members living until their late 90s as a matter of course – other factors appear to contribute, too.
A healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish, combined with regular moderate physical exercise, low levels of stress, and time for meditation or relaxation seem to be major factors.
For their paper Longevity and ageing in the third millennium: New perspectives, researchers José Miguel Rodríguez-Pardo – professor of actuarial sciences at Madrid's Carlos III University – and faculty of medicine professor Antonio López Farré from Madrid's Complutense University studied the longest-living populations on the planet from a personal, financial and social point of view.
Many of the factors which help people to live long lives happen 'by accident', says López Farré.
“For example, in the town of Icaria, where six in 10 people live to be over 90, they have to walk down and climb back up a mountain on foot every day just to buy their bread, and they take a 30-minute nap in the middle of the day,” López Farré says.
But happiness is also important.
“Every single centenarian we've spoken to, when asked if they were happy, said they were,” the professor reveals.
In some cultures, this means a person's phenotype – the result of how their genetic makeup, or genotype, interacts with the environment – can effectively be inherited, since habits, customs and attitudes pass down family lines.
Genetically-determined life expectancy can, of course, be modified by access to quality healthcare and advances in medicine, and the current trend of predicting, preventing and advance-repairing illnesses, especially inherited types, rather than simply curing, is one of the greatest allies in the quest for a longer, healthier life.
Although the currently understood life-limit of 120 years is likely to extend in the relatively near future, López Farré says science is not capable of guaranteeing immortality.
“I think it's impossible, and I don't know if it would be a good thing anyway,” López Farré admits.
“Our capacity for regeneration gradually wanes with age, and you get to a point where your cells just can't do it any more.”
Spain has over 17,000 centenarians and four 'super-centenarians' aged over 110
Ana María Vela Rubio (pictured right) is Europe's oldest and the world's third-oldest woman and, if she is still alive in eight days' time – on October 29 – she will be 116 years old.
She comes from Puente Genil (Córdoba province) and currently lives in Terrassa (Barcelona province), with one daughter aged 91 still alive and a nephew aged 68.
Magdalena Oliver Gabarro, from Galicia, the second-oldest woman in Spain, will turn 114 on Hallowe'en – a birthday she shares with the second heir to the throne, Crown Princess Leonor, but is 102 years the young Royal's senior.
Avelina Mouzo Leis, born and still living in Galicia, is 112, and her 113th birthday will be on December 27.
The world's oldest man is Francisco Núñez Olivera, from Spain's land-locked western region of Extremadura, who is due to turn 113 on December 13 this year.
As yet, no woman in Spain has lived longer than Ana Vela Rubio, and the man who lived the longest was Joan Riudavets Moll, who was born in and died in the Balearic Islands – he was 114 years and 81 days on the date of his death, March 5, 2004, having come into the world on December 15, 1889.
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