Researchers know living a long life is in our genes, but now they’ve found out more about a specific variant that helps some of us live to a ripe old age. The variation found gives clues about personality traits related to physical activity, socialization and an individual’s penchant for learning new things.
The gene variant happens to be associated with motivation toward exercise, enjoying other people and intellectual activities in addition to longevity.
In other words, it might not be the gene variation itself that promotes a long life, but rather personality traits that accompany the variant.
The finding, published in the Journal of Neurosciences, was carried out by researchers at University of California, Brookhaven.
Robert Moyzis, professor of biological chemistry at UC Irvine, and Dr. Nora Volkow, a psychiatrist who conducts research at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and also directs the National Institute on Drug Abuse, led the study.
Moyzis said in a press release, “It’s been well documented that the more you’re involved with social and physical activities, the more likely you’ll live longer. It could be as simple as that.”
Most experts agree socialization starts at an early age and that food choices and physical activity are taught to children by their parents. The study seems to suggest there is more that drives lifestyle choices and it’s in our genes and isn’t necessarily taught.
According to Moyzis, the gene variant is also linked to attention deficit disorder (ADD) and risky behaviors.
The variant is called the DRD4 7R allele that is a dopamine receptor. Risk taking behaviors have previously been tied to dopamine receptors, depending where they’re located in the brain. But some of those receptors can also have the opposite effect that holds people back from taking risks.
Dopamine has been described as a ‘feel good’ hormone.
For their study, the UC Irvine team analyzed genetic samples from 310 participants in the 90+ Study that was launched in 2003. The goal of the study is to find out “what makes people live to age 90 and beyond”.
Some of the findings to date include:
The researchers were also able to correlate lack of the gene variation and shorter-lifespan in mice.
Questions still remain about whether the gene variant alone leads to a long life or if it’s just that the variation helps form our personality in a way that promotes healthy behaviors that are known to extend lifespan.
Either way, “…it is clear that individuals with this gene variant are already more likely to be responding to the well-known medical adage to get more physical activity,” Moyzis said.
The scientists admit the finding may not have any clinical applications. I suspect more studies might reveal if there could be a ‘lazy’ gene lurking in our DNA.
The take-home message is (again) – stay active, spend quality time with family and friends and take time to learn something new every day if you want to live a long life and feel good along the way.
“Life’s not the breaths you take
But the moments that take your breath away” – George Strait lyrics