Senior author Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, colleagues interviewed 477 Ashkenazi Jews who were living independently and were age 95-112 -- 75 percent of them women -- enrolled in Einstein's Longevity Genes Project, a study on aging.
Descended from a small founder group, Ashkenazi Jews are more genetically uniform than other populations, making it easier to spot gene differences that are present, Barzilai says.
The study participants were asked about their lifestyles at age 70 including their weight and height, alcohol consumption, smoking habits, physical activity, and whether they ate a low-calorie, low-fat or low-salt diet.
The study participants' data were compared to data from 3,164 people participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The study, published in the online edition of Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, suggests that "nature" via longevity genes may be more important than "nurture" via a healthy lifestyle when it comes to an exceptionally long life.
For example, among long-living men, 24 percent consumed alcohol daily, compared with 22 percent of the general population, and 43 percent of male centenarians reported regular exercise compared with 57 percent of men in the comparison group, the study says.
"Although this study demonstrates that centenarians can be obese, smoke and avoid exercise, those lifestyle habits are not good choices for most of us who do not have a family history of longevity," Barzilai says.