How Do Genes Impact Healthy Aging?

People living in some areas of the world, such as in Okinawa and Sardinia, tend to live much longer than people in other places. These longevity hotspots are called “blue zones”. Sounds great, but is just moving to one of these places enough to increase your life expectancy, or is there more to the story? Past studies have suggested that certain genes such as FOXO3A, which regulates cellular stress resistance, and APOE, responsible for maintaining normal cholesterol levels, can play a role in living longer. The findings haven’t been conclusive, but new research may help shed some light on this mystery.

What’s the Deal with Genes?
Recently, researchers at the University of Southern Denmark followed nearly 1,100 of the oldest Danes (ages 92-93) over a period of 7 years. Based on previous studies, they identified 125 genes that could be associated with longevity, and then compared these genes to characteristics, including intelligence, hand grip strength, self-rated health, and everyday activities. Although at the start of the study, 5 genes were linked with changes in these characteristics, they were not able to be confirmed after the 7 year follow-up period. The research was replicated, in a study examining almost 1,300 Danes (ages 94-100), and the results showed basically the same thing. All in all, this research suggests there are no concrete associations between genetics and characteristics that could result in healthy aging.

What Does it Mean for Me?
As this research shows, you don’t need to worry about your genes too much (and you can’t change them anyway). There are plenty of other factors that will positively affect your life besides genetics. For example, science shows that focusing on and improving your diet, exercise, education, and even patience will help you live a longer, healthier life.

(Feature photo courtesy of

Matthew Poulsen

Matthew Poulsen is an intern with the Healthy Aging Project, and a student in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.