Environment May Be the Key to Long Life

By Ralph Birch

While genetics play a part in people living longer, other environmental factors influence longevity as well.

Researchers have found that where you live has a significant effect on your likelihood to reach 100 years of age, according to a recent study completed by scientists at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The study, which was based on mortality data in the state of Washington, found that residents who live in highly walkable, mixed-age communities are more likely to become centenarians.

Digging Deeper

Along with the types of communities where people live, the study also pinpointed socioeconomic status as a key factor. Residents of Washington communities like Seattle and Pullman and their surrounding neighborhoods had a better chance of living to be 100 years old because of the higher socioeconomic status common to those areas.

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that social and environmental factors contribute significantly to longevity,” said study author Rajan Bhardwaj, a Washington State University medical student.


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“We know from previous research that you can modify, through behavior, your susceptibility to different diseases based on your genetics,” said Ofer Amram, the study's senior author and an assistant professor who runs Washington State University’s Community Health and Spatial Epidemiology (CHaSE) lab.

Filling in the Blanks

Put simply, when you live in an environment that supports healthy aging, this likely affects your ability to successfully beat your genetic odds through lifestyle changes. But there was a gap in knowledge as to the exact environmental and social factors that support an environment that best results in living to centenarian age, which the Washington State study helped to address.

The study examined the deaths of nearly 145,000 Washingtonians who died at age 75 or older between 2011 and 2015. The data included information on each person's age and place of residence at the time of death, as well as their sex, race, education level, and marital status.

“These findings indicate that mixed-age communities are very beneficial for everyone involved,” said Bhardwaj. “They also support the big push in growing urban centers toward making streets more walkable, which makes exercise more accessible to older adults and makes it easier for them to access medical care and grocery stores.”

Discussion Questions

  • Aside from those mentioned in the article, what other factors do you think contribute to people living longer?
  • Do you know anyone who has lived to be 100 years old?


  • centenarian
  • socioeconomic