ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Longevity: The Genetic Component

Updated on August 30, 2011

A study of Danish twins gives us some insights

Long lifespans tend to run in families, and, unfortunately, so do short ones. If your parents lived a long time before passing on, chances are you will too. But why? Have you inherited a predisposition towards a longer life from their DNA, or have you just taken on the various diet and lifestyle factors that we know to prolong life? Let's take a look at the nature vs. nurture debate again.

When Sadie's (top) sister Bessie (bottom) died, she wrote a book: On My Own at 107: Reflections on a Life Without Bessie
When Sadie's (top) sister Bessie (bottom) died, she wrote a book: On My Own at 107: Reflections on a Life Without Bessie

Is our lifespan dictated by nature or nurture?

In short, the answer is both. Genetics play a relatively small component, however; lifestyle and accompanying dietary choices still play the major part in determining how long you're going to live.

How do we know? To examine the genetic component to a group of people's lifespans, we have to be able to remove the genetic factor. The best way to do this is to look at siblings, or, even better, genetically-identical twins. Assuming that they had similar lifestyles, we can reasonably expect that siblings' and twins' lifespans would be similar. Take a look at Kin Narita and Gin Kanie, who died at 107 and 108, respectively, or Sadie and Bessie Delany, who were not identical twins, but still sisters with the same parents, and who lived to the ripe old ages of 109 and 106. But these pairs of sisters also had remarkably similar lifestyles, having even spent a majority of their adult lives together. How much of their remarkable longevity was due to having the same parents, and how much to healthy diets and lifestyles? After all, the Delany sisters themselves attributed their extraordinarily long lives to daily yoga and prayer, cod liver oil, and garlic; neither smoked or drank either.

The study of genetically-identical twins

The most definitive answer to date to this puzzle has come from a study of Danish twins, 2872 pairs born from 1870 to 1900. Some of the twins were identical, having the same genetic foundation, while others were fraternal, having the same parents but a degree of genetic variability common to all non-identical siblings. Using statistical analysis, the researchers were able to derive lifespan heritability (the degree to which a certain factor is genetically inherited) estimates for both men and women: 26% for men, and 23% for women. The remaining approximate three-quarters of our longevity is not heritable; i.e. it is a function of our environment, our lifestyles, and choices we make.

What about that last 25%?

Is it safe to say that the quarter of the factors that determine our longevity is completely out of our hands? Not necessarily. Genetic predispositions towards cancer or heart disease, for example, can be anticipated and dealt with properly. After all, an inherited proclivity towards high cholesterol isn't quite the same death sentence that it was even fifty years ago, as evidenced by falling heart disease and stroke rates (much of the improvement is due to improvements in health care and lifestyle changes). As medical technology and our understanding of the way our bodies work both grow, the extent to which our longevity is just "in the cards" will play a diminishing role in the years and decades to come.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • healthystream profile image


      8 years ago

      This was something that inspired me a lot. My grandpas died at the age bracket of 68 to 75 years, and my dad's mother died at the age of 82. However, my mom's mother is turning 92 this December and she's still very active. Living a longer like these two sisters is really something.

    • qwark profile image


      9 years ago

      Informative "hubs" livelonger!

      This info has been out there for some time, but it needs to be promulgated to a greater extent.

      Qwark :-)

    • Drax profile image

      des donnelly 

      13 years ago from NYC....

      thanks for this Livelonger - it reminded me of the Hunzas, they live remote from the modern world and eat a very simple diet.

    • livelonger profile imageAUTHOR

      Jason Menayan 

      13 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks Iðunn.

    • profile image


      13 years ago

      good hub


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)