Unlocking the secrets of longevity

On Oct. 1 the UN marks the 25th anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons. According to current predictions, by 2050, nearly 1 in 5 people in developing countries will be over 60. DiscovHER looks at the latest research pioneered by women scientists in the field of gerontology - the study of aging and older adults.

Aging in the city: 900 million people over 60 in cities by 2050

On this International day of Older Persons, the UN is spotlighting the need for develop age-inclusive cities. Under the theme “Sustainability and Age Inclusiveness in the Urban Environment” the campaign explores the impact older people have on the city plus the impact city living has on them. By 2015, a quarter of the developing world’s city populations - 900 million people - in cities will be over the age of 60. With the hashtag #60PLUS, the IDOP (International Day of Older Persons) calls for urban environments to be safer and more accessible for older people, particularly when it comes to transport.

Predicting longevity: A calculation of your lifetime

Something gerontologist Janice Schwartz often hears from her older patients is that “they never expected to live so long, and that they would have done a lot of things differently.” This prompted the professor of medicine and bioengineering and therapeutic sciences at the University of San Francisco, California to ask: whether we predict how long we will live?

Today - online calculators, based on official government data or insurance companies are increasingly available. "They not only personalize estimates of life expectancy but they demonstrate the role of healthy-living in that", Schwartz says. The calculators consider everything from age to sex, weight to blood pressure and smoking to exercise. While, of course, income and history of disease can affect life expectancy.

The Gender Gap: Women haven’t always outlived men

Today women outlive men in all countries after a jump in adult male mortality in the 20th-century according to research published in July. Co-authored by Eileen Crimmins, USC University Professor and AARP Professor of Gerontology in California, specialized in the evolution of health and mortality. In the paper, the life expectancy gender gap is depicted as a recent phenomenon. It is linked to heart disease and smoking and increased male vulnerability to cardiovascular diseases that came with dietary and further lifestyle changes. Crimmins’ research has also looked at why life expectancy in the U.S. is falling behind that of other countries.

Loneliness: bigger threat obesity

If you want to live a long life, hang on to your social life, says Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad. Based at Brigham Young University in Utah, she led a study of 3 million participants, to demonstrate that loneliness and being isolated are as big a threat to life expectancy as obesity. While being alone is a risk to health, having social contact keeps people healthier.

In other research, Dr. Holt-Lunstad, has shown that isolation is as harmful to longevity as a 15-cigarette a day habit.

Follow the UN International Older Persons Day on twitter @UN4Ageing

For Women in Science

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