TUESDAY, June 12, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- People whose fathers or grandfathers started having children at a later age may live longer, according to a new study.
Northwestern University researchers looked at telomere length in people in the Philippines. Telomeres are bits of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes from deterioration. Longer telomeres appear to be associated with slower aging, while shorter telomeres seem to be associated with health problems that occur with aging.
Longer telomeres were found in people whose fathers and grandfathers began families later in life, according to the study published June 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"If your father and grandfather were able to live and reproduce at a later age, this might predict that you yourself live in an environment that is somewhat similar -- an environment with less accidental deaths or in which men are only able to find a partner at later ages," lead author Dan Eisenberg, a doctoral candidate in anthropology, said in a Northwestern news release. "In such an environment, investing more in a body capable of reaching these late ages could be an adaptive strategy from an evolutionary perspective."
The findings are fascinating, said co-author Christopher Kuzawa, an associate professor of anthropology.
"If our recent ancestors waited until later in adulthood before they reproduced, perhaps for cultural reasons, it would make sense for our bodies to prepare for something similar by investing the extra resources necessary to maintain healthy functioning at more advanced ages," Kuzawa said in the news release.
However, the researchers said their findings should not be interpreted to mean that men should intentionally have children at a later age. Previous research has shown that older fathers are more likely to pass along harmful genetic mutations to their children.
The authors of the study also suggest that more research is needed. "We will want to see if the longer telomeres that offspring of older fathers and grandfathers inherit at birth have fewer health problems and ailments as they age," Kuzawa said. "Based upon our findings, we predict that this will be the case, but this is a question to be addressed in future studies."
While the study uncovered an association between longer telomeres and later fatherhood, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The American Academy of Family Physicians offers tips about good health habits at age 60 and beyond.