While living into your 90s—or even to 100—isn't as rare a phenomenon as it once was (especially for women), no one quite knows what biological components or behavioral "secrets" make someone predisposed for such a long life span. Is it sushi and sleep? Three beers and a shot of Johnnie Walker every day? Researchers seem to think there's one big factor that might play a role: Your period.
Women who get their periods later (and who experience menopause later) may have increased chances of living to 90, according to a new study published in Menopause. The researchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine followed a group of approximately 16,000 racially and ethnically diverse women ages 69 to 81 over the course of 21 years. They found that 55 percent survived to age 90, with an average age of death of 83.7. Not surprisingly, the women who lived to 90 were more likely to report higher levels of physical activity, and were less likely to be obese, to be current smokers, or to have a history of age-related diseases. These women were also more likely to be drinkers. (So apparently, no need to kick that pinot habit!)
However, the researchers also found that women who started their periods at age 12 or older, who experienced menopause (either naturally or surgically) at age 50 or older, and who had more than 40 total reproductive years had increased odds of living to 90, explained study author Aladdin Shadyab, Ph.D., in the press release.
Why is that? "Women who started menstruation at a later age were less likely to have certain health issues, like coronary heart disease, and those who experienced menopause later in life were more likely to be in excellent health overall, which may be a possible explanation for our findings," Shadyab said.
If you got your period when you were 10, this probably isn't the most encouraging thing you've read today. But it's not all out of your control: Lifestyle factors such as smoking can damage the cardiovascular system and ovaries, which can cause you to start menopause earlier. And as with all studies, additional research is needed to "precisely define the relationship between the timing of reproductive events and a woman's length of life." They also need to explain how heavily lifestyle, genetic, and environmental factors come into play—so early bloomers don't need to get their panties in a twist quite yet.