There’s no way to know with certainty how long you’ll live. You can look at your parents and get an idea of how long you’re likely to live – but even that isn’t foolproof. Genetics don’t take into account diet and lifestyle, factors that are obviously important in determining how healthy you are. Over the years researchers have discovered certain “markers” linked with a healthier cardiovascular system and, possibly, greater longevity. These markers say something about your general health and potential for living a long life. Here are four you can measure.
Longevity Marker: Walking Speed
Do you frequently “blow past” people because you walk so fast? Could be a sign you’ll be around for a while. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a link between walking speed and mortality among older women. Women that walked at the fastest pace in their mid-seventies had a 91% chance of seeing their 85th birthday. In contrast, only 35% of the slowest walkers could anticipate being around that long.
Of course, there are a number of factors at play when you look at walking speed and this study doesn’t necessarily show cause and effect. It’s possible senior women walk slower because they already have health problems that put them at greater risk for mortality. Still, a fast walking speed seems to go along with a healthier body and one that’s more resilient.
Longevity Marker: Reaction Time
Quick, quick, how fast can you react? As part of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers measured the reaction speeds of other 5,000 healthy adults using a computer program. Interestingly, they found adults with slower reaction speeds had a higher mortality rate and as well as a greater risk for developing heart disease. This was true even after they adjusted for factors like age and sex. Other research has found a similar association.
Why is there a link between reaction time and mortality? A fast reaction time is a sign of a healthy nervous system. That’s important since your nervous system controls almost everything that happens inside your body, including your heart rate. A slower reaction time increases the risk of accidental death and a sluggish nervous system may increase the risk for irregular heart rhythms.
There are a variety of sites online where you can test your reaction time online, but don’t take the results too seriously. Your reaction time can vary based on how much sleep you had, whether you’ve drunk a caffeinated beverage, medications you’re taking and how stressed you feel.
Longevity Marker: Resting Pulse
A normal pulse rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. As a generalization, a slower pulse rate, especially in a person who exercises, is a marker for health. A healthy heart that’s conditioned from aerobic exercise has a higher stroke volume. As a result, it can pump out more blood with each beat. This means it doesn’t have to pump as many times per minute to deliver oxygen to tissues. It operates more efficiently than a heart with a lower stroke volume that has to beat faster to deliver the same amount of oxygen.
Several studies have found a link between resting heart rate and longevity. People with lower resting heart rates and heart rates that decrease as they age tend to have lower mortality rates. What’s the link between resting heart and longevity? A faster resting heart rate may be a marker for “stiffer” blood vessels that don’t relax as well in response to blood flow. A faster heart rate may also be a sign of over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the fight-or-flight portion that’s activated by stress.
You would expect someone who’s in good physical shape that exercises regularly to have a slower resting heart rate, but the connection between resting heart rate and longevity persists even when you control for factors like physical fitness, BMI and age.
Longevity Marker: Heart Rate Recovery
How fast your heart rate slows down or recovers after a bout of exercise says something about how healthy your heart is as well as your risk for cardiovascular mortality. You can test this for yourself. Normally after a bout of vigorous exercise, your heart should slow by about 15 to 25 beats in the first minute.
To test your heart rate recovery, measure your resting heart rate. Then exercise at a vigorous pace for a minute or two until you’re feeling out of breath. Rest for 60 seconds. At the end of 60 seconds, take your heart rate again. If the difference between your resting heart rate and your heart rate after exercise is less than 12, you have a slow heart rate recovery. This doesn’t mean you’re destined to die of a heart attack – it just means you need to work on aerobic fitness and lead a heart-healthy lifestyle as much as possible.
The Bottom Line?
If you have good genetics, eat a healthy diet and exercise, you may have hit the longevity jackpot. These four “markers” are easy to measure and they give you a general idea of how healthy your cardiovascular and nervous system are. You do have control to some degree over how long you live by the lifestyle habits you adopt. So choose wisely.
Huffington Post 50 “Walking Speed Could Predict Life Span in Seniors: Study.
PLOS One. “Reaction Time and Mortality from the Major Causes of Death: The NHANES-III Study”
Medscape Family Medicine. “Aging, Resting Pulse Rate, and Longevity”
Better for You. “The Surprising Way to Measure Longevity”
WebMD. “Researchers Find Heart Rate Worth a Thousand Words”
Related Articles By Cathe: