Want to live longer? If you’re a woman, have a child in your mid-30s or beyond. Or, well, have a body that’s capable of doing so.
That’s the finding of a new study conducted by aging researchers at Boston University, Boston Medical Center, and elsewhere. It compared 311 women in the Long Life Family Study who lived to at least 95 years of age with 151 counterparts who died at younger ages and found that those who gave birth past the age of 33 had twice the odds of living to 95 years or older compared with the control group who had their last child by age 29.
Given that I gave birth to my third and youngest child at age 29, I was not happy to hear this news. Should I have tried for another to increase my odds of living longer? (I ask this facetiously since I know the added stress of having a fourth would have shortened my lifespan.)
Longevity researcher Dr. Thomas Perls, co-author of the study published Wednesday in the journal Menopause, agrees that the study yields no practical advice for women.
“Women shouldn’t delay child-bearing based on this study,” Perls said in an interview. But, he added, that the finding should give pause to those who criticize women who get pregnant naturally during middle-age. “Critics say they’ll be too old to care for their teens or help raise their grand-children, but I would wager that these women are aging exceptionally well.”
He pointed to actress Halle Berry who had a surprise pregnancy at age 46. “Look how incredibly young she looks.”
His previous research found that women at the extreme end of the child-bearing spectrum — who are able to give birth after age 40 — were four times as likely to live to 100 as those who had children at younger ages.
But Halle Berry is the exception, not the norm; fertility declines with age, and many women need to turn to assisted reproductive technologies like IVF to get pregnant in their late 30s or early 40s.
Longevity benefits don’t extend to those who get pregnant with such methods, Perls said.
Future research will investigate whether going through natural menopause at an older age is also a marker for slower aging.
“That will more directly get to answers we’re looking for, which is finding genetic variants that these women all have in common to explain why they age more slowly,” Perls said. “If we can better understand the biological pathways that these genes govern, we might find drugs that do the same things as the genes.”