It’s generally assumed that if your parents live a long life, the odds for your life expectancy are good as well. But research shows that life expectancy isn’t as dependent on genetics as we usually think. Scientists now believe that lifestyle has the biggest impact on how long we live, with genetic factors accounting for only 25% of the variation in human longevity.

A study that began in 1963 monitored the health of 855 men (women were included in the study starting in 2003) and looked at lifestyle factors that influenced their health and life expectancy. Thirteen percent of the participants lived to the age of 90. Researchers determined that those who didn’t smoke, had low cholesterol, drank moderate amounts of coffee, and had a good socio-economic status at the age of 50 were most likely to reach their 90th birthday. Study authors noted that these factors had previously been identified as important in preventing cardiovascular disease, but this study marked the first time they were associated with living a longer life.

Increasing not just lifespan but also healthspan — the portion of your life characterized by good health — is now thought to depend on a combination of genetic factors and healthy lifestyle habits that help prevent cellular damage and maintain DNA health.

The link between longevity and genetics

Your genes influence a number of factors related to your overall health and wellness, including how you process certain foods, how easily your body can withstand stress, which nutrients you need the most, and whether you’re susceptible to weight gain.

In particular, genes related to DNA repair, telomere preservation, and the management of free radicals have been found to extend lifespan. Individuals with impaired function in these genes are more likely to experience DNA damage that leads to accelerated cellular aging.

How to increase longevity

Even when genetic risks are present, however, adopting certain lifestyle habits may outweigh those risks. For example, regular exercise can outweigh the risk of obesity among people with a genetic variant that makes them more likely to overeat. And lifestyle factors that help protect telomeres — the protective end caps on the end of chromosomes — can help prevent and even repair DNA damage caused by free radicals.

Limiting your exposure to toxins, exercising regularly, and eating an anti-inflammatory diet are all associated with a reduced risk of disease and a longer lifespan. Recent research has also indicated that diets that are lower in protein are associated with a longer lifespan, and that periodic calorie restriction can improve cellular health and help slow the aging process. In particular, the ProLon fasting mimicking diet has been found to promote healthy aging and cellular regeneration.

Gaining a greater understanding of your own genetic makeup and your ability to protect against DNA damage makes it easier to take steps toward lengthening your life. Good habits such as maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, drinking only in moderation, and eating well all have the power to protect your DNA from damage, reduce your risk of illness, and increase your life expectancy.

Learn more about the ways your individual genetic makeup influences your health by ordering your genetic report from Vivaliti DNA. We analyze 80 different genetic markers to give you a complete picture of how your body responds to different foods, which exercises are most beneficial for you, and other factors that will help you meet your health and wellness goals. Order your genetic test today!