LONDON – The largest ever study of its kind ever conducted shows the longer parents live, the longer offspring are also likely to live.
The research, released Tuesday in London by the Medical Research Council (MRC), also shows it means children of long-lived parents are more likely to stay healthy in their sixties and seventies.
Those with longer-lived parents have with much lower rates of heart conditions and some cancers.
The major study, funded by the MRC and involving almost 190,000 participants in the UK Biobank, is the largest of its kind. It found that chances of survival increased by 17 percent for each decade that at least one parent lives beyond the age of 70.
The study was led by the University of Exeter and involved an international team of academics from the University of Cambridge (UK), UConn Center on Aging at UConn Health in Connecticut, USA, the French National Institute of Health, and the Indian Institute of Public Health.
It found evidence showing for the first time that knowing the age at which parents died could help predict risk not only of heart disease, but many aspects of heart and circulatory health.
The researchers used data on the health of 186,000 middle-aged offspring, aged 55 to 73 years, followed over a period of up to eight years.
The team found that those with longer lived parents had lower incidence of multiple circulatory conditions including heart disease, heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and atrial fibrillation.
It found the risk of death from heart disease was 20 percent lower for each decade that at least one parent lived beyond the age of 70 years. In addition, those with longer lived parents also had reduced risk of cancer; a 7 percent reduced likelihood of cancer in the follow-up per longer-lived parent.
Although factors such as smoking, high alcohol consumption, low physical activity and obesity were important, the lifespan of parents was still predictive of disease onset after accounting for these risks.
Dr Janice Atkins, a Research Fellow in the Epidemiology and Public Health group at the University of Exeter Medical School and lead author on the paper, said: “To our knowledge, this is the largest study to show that the longer your parents live, the more likely you are to remain healthy in your sixties and seventies.”
The study built on previous findings published by the University of Exeter Medical School researchers earlier this year, which established a genetic link between parents’ longevity and heart disease risk.
Professor David Melzer, who leads the research program, said: “It’s been unclear why some older people develop heart conditions in their sixties while others only develop these conditions much later in life or even avoid them completely. Our research tells us that, while avoiding the well-known risk factors such as smoking is very important, there are also other factors inherited from parents. As we understand these parental factors better, we should be able to help more people to age well.”