When it comes to judging someone’s chances at living a long, healthy life, some clues are more obvious than others. Most of us would put our money on the guy who runs two miles a day and eats plenty of vegetables over the seriously overweight smoker, for instance. But some predictors of longevity you might not guess as easily. Here are a few unusual ways that may determine your likelihood of getting seriously sick.
1. Birth order. While there’s no definitive proof, several studies indicate that first-born boys are exposed to higher levels of estrogen at birth, increasing their risk of testicular cancer. Older siblings also seem to have a greater risk of developing childhood leukemia. “There are suggestions that it may have to do with exposure to viruses and bacteria. Siblings aren’t around to give them as much exposure,” Elizabeth Rapley, a molecular geneticist and spokesperson for the Institute for Cancer Research (ICR) in London told gizmodo.com.
2. Finger length. Other researchers at ICR compared more than 1,500 men with prostate cancer to more than 3,000 random men. Ignoring family history and other factors, men older than 60 years with an index finger that was longer than their ring finger were 33 percent less likely on average to develop prostate cancer. Younger men with a longer index finger fared even better, with an 87 percent average reduction in risk.
3. Grip strength. According to a 25-year study of more than 6,000 men aged 45 through 68, grip strength was the best predictor of how well they’d avoid being incapacitated later in life. The weakest-gripping men suffered twice the disabilities of ones with hands of steel. And in a separate study of older men and women, good grip strength was correlated with longer lifespan.
4. Hair loss. Studies done by researchers from the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have shown that pattern baldness—particularly significant hair loss at the crown—is associated with an increased chance of heart disease. Men who were completely bald at the crown had the most reason to worry—they were up to 36 percent more likely to show signs of trouble than those full heads of hair. “We found men with extensive baldness that involves the top of their heads have the greatest risk of heart disease,” said JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
5. Religion. The oldest group of people in the country is a community of Seventh Day Adventists residing in Loma Linda, California. They have an average life expectancy of 88 years (a full ten years longer than the U.S. average). One reason may be that Adventists don’t drink or smoke, and many follow the vegetarian diet the church advises. But not all members do, and even the meat-eaters live significantly longer than average. Dr. Gary Fraser, a researcher with the Loma Linda University School of Public Health who is researching the community, told the BBC. “At this moment we don’t really know, but people who go to church regularly— whatever faith they have— live longer, and there’s no question about that.”
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