Study: Genetics may boost seniors' likelihood of staying socially, physically engaged

Retirement communities across the country often place an emphasis on social and physical activity, and it's easy to understand why. Along with mental stimulation, the two criteria are important parts of healthy aging. Now, a new study from the University of California, Irvine, suggests that some seniors may be genetically predisposed to be socially, physically and intellectually active as they age.

Researchers were interested in a variation of a gene known as the DRD4 7R allele, which helps the transmission of information between neurons. Previous studies have shown that the variant is more common in adults in their 90s. Interestingly, the team found that higher levels of the gene correlated with more physical activity and a greater propensity to be social.

"While the genetic variant may not directly influence longevity, it is associated with personality traits that have been shown to be important for living a longer, healthier life," said Robert Moyzis, one of the study leaders. "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."

Although the research hints that some seniors may be more apt to stay active later in life, that doesn't mean that others are incapable of doing so as well. There is ample evidence suggesting that social engagement is one of the most important parts of a healthy lifestyle for seniors.

Some of the most compelling research on the topic came from a 2008 study out of the Harvard School of Public Health. Researchers found that seniors who interacted more with family and friends and volunteered frequently were more likely to stave off memory loss and other age-related declines in health.