Worcester County

Study hopes to unlock the secret of ageless aging

MILFORD, Mass. — At The Gym in Milford, a small but dedicated group of members over age 65 gather several times a week to exercise.

“Feels good. That’s why I go to these exercise classes,” said Lester Apicella, age 92. “Don’t sit around all day, you know, like a couch potato.”

Barbara Epstein, age 80, and her husband attend not only fitness classes, but yoga, as well. “You have to have a good diet, eat healthy and definitely exercise,” she said.

Research has clearly shown the benefits of staying active, eating well and maintaining a normal weight as we age. But that’s only to a point, says Thomas T. Perls, MD, MPH, a professor of medicine at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine.

“I think most of us, on average, have the blueprint — that is the genetic make up — to get us to 90,” Perls said. “That’s what I think humans are built for. To exceed that starts requiring maybe something special.”

That “something special” is the focus of a research collaboration between BU, the Albert Einstein School of Medicine and the American Federation of Aging Research. The Super Agers Family Study will look deeper into what previous studies have shown — the important role genetics play in longevity. The study seeks to enroll individuals age 95 and older — as well as their relatives.

“If things work out, they could be in a study where we just get a little bit of saliva and some clinical data and we can do some genetic studies looking for these genes that seem to protect people from aging and aging-related diseases,” Perls said.

The hope is to explore whether the function of these genes can be duplicated — so that everyone can benefit.

“If we can find the genes and then the underlying biological mechanisms that those genes kind of govern — that allow them to age so slowly and avoid diseases — once you know those mechanisms you can start finding drugs that do the same thing,” Perls said.

Until that day, healthy aging still involves following the basics.

For Ozzi Castagna of Milford that comes down, in part, to regularly attending exercise class.

“Stay busy, don’t sit on the couch,” he said. “Live for today and hope for a better tomorrow.”

For more information or to enroll in the Super Agers study, click here.

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