How to live longer: The smell-related attribute that may lead to a longer life

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How long will you live is in part subject to chance but science can provide a general guide by identifying warning signs in advance. Markers associated with life-threatening complications in older age, such as dementia, for example, are increasingly being identified earlier in life. One study published in the Annals of Annals of Internal Medicine has made a novel contribution to this field, suggesting that your sense of smell may determine your lifespan.

According to the study, older adults with a poor sense of smell may die sooner than those with more acute olfactory abilities.

To investigate the link between sense of smell and longevity, researchers asked 2,289 adults, ages 71 to 82, to identify 12 common smells, ranking their ability to identify the correct smell from zero to 12.

To ensure all participants started off on a level footing, at the start of the study none of the participants were frail: they could walk a quarter mile, climb 10 steps, and independently complete daily activities.

During 13 years of follow-up, 1,211 participants died.

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How to live longer: The smell-related attribute that may lead to a longer life

Live longer: Poor sense of smell was linked to a shorter life compared to its acute counterpart (Image: Getty Images )

Overall, participants with a weak nose were 46 percent more likely to die by year 10 and 30 percent more likely to die by year 13 than people with a good sense of smell, the study found.

“The association was largely limited to participants who reported good-to-excellent health at enrollment, suggesting that poor sense of smell is an early and sensitive sign for deteriorating health before it is clinically recognizable,” said senior study author Dr. Honglei Chen of Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Emphasising the potential impact of a poor sense of smell, people who started out the study in excellent or good health were 62 percent more likely to die by year 10 when they had a poor sense of smell than when they had a keen nose.

Furthermore, the study found that people with a poor sense of smell were more likely to die of neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases, but not of cancer or respiratory conditions.

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Poor sense of smell may be an early warning sign for poor health in older age that goes beyond neurodegenerative diseases that often spell the beginning of physical or mental decline, the results suggest.

What else did they study reveal?

Dementia or Parkinson’s disease accounted for only 22 percent of the higher death risk tied to a poor sense of smell, while weight loss explained just six percent of this connection, researchers suggested.

That leaves more than 70 percent of the higher mortality rates tied to a weak nose unexplained.

How to live longer: The smell-related attribute that may lead to a longer life

Live longer: Study suggests a sense of smell may reveal more than neurodegenerative diseases (Image: Getty Images )

The study researchers acknowledged a number of limitations that should be factored into the assessment, however.

One limitation of the study is that the older adult participants were relatively functional, suggesting that results might differ for younger people or for frail elderly individuals.

Another variable relates to the fact that researchers only tested smell at one point in time, and they didn’t look at whether changes in olfactory abilities over time might influence mortality.

Researchers also lacked data on certain medical causes of a weak nose such as nasal surgery or chronic rhinosinusitis that are not related to ageing.

ommenting on the findings, Vidyulata Kamath of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, co-author of an accompanying editorial, said: “The take-home message is that a loss in the sense of smell may serve as a bellwether for declining health.”

What you can do to lead a long life

While certain characteristics cannot be changed, key preventative measures can be taken to ensure a long life.

As the NHS explains, eating a healthy, balanced diet offers protection against life-threatening complications, such as heart disease.

What constitutes a healthy diet?

“A low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended, which should include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (five portions a day) and whole grains,” advises the health body.

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