Women are living longer. Over the last century, the number of US women reaching 90 years of age has increased dramatically. Currently, an estimated 1.3 million women already belong to this burgeoning demographic, which is only expected to quadruple by 2050.1
Why are women living longer? Much speculation exists, yet specific factors that predispose a woman to a longer lifespan aren’t entirely understood.
To investigate, a team of researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine began to look at reproductive factors—specifically time of menarche and menopause.1 They found that women who started menstruation and experienced menopause later in life were more likely to live to be 90.
Led by Dr. Aladdin H. Shadyab, PhD, the study investigated a racially and ethnically diverse group of over 16,000 women recruited through the Women’s Health Initiative—a long-term national study that examined health issues among postmenopausal women.
The results published in Menopause showed that 55 percent lived to age 90. Women who lived longer were more likely to be at least 12 years of age when starting menstruation. The probability of longevity increased even more so for women who experienced menopause (natural or surgical) at 50 or older, in comparison to those who underwent menopause at 40 years or younger.
“Our team found 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,” Dr. Shadyab told UC San Diego Health.2
The authors further explained that a longer reproductive lifespan—as seen among women with more than 40 reproductive years—may give more time for heart-protective ovarian hormones to circulate throughout the body.
Genes play a definite role in age of menarche, menopause, and lifespan. One particular gene called exonuclease repairs DNA damage and is significantly associated with age of menopause, as well as increased life expectancy among women who have lived to be 100 years or older.1
Conversely, lifestyle choices cannot be ignored. “Factors, such as smoking, can damage the cardiovascular system and ovaries, which can result in earlier menopause,” Dr. Shadyab continued. Women who smoke are seen to experience menopause earlier—two years earlier, according to the Fertility Coalition.3
Dr. Shadyab concluded that more studies are needed to determine how specific factors, like genetics and lifestyle, relate to reproductive benchmarks and longevity. “This study is just the beginning of looking at factors that can predict a woman’s likelihood of surviving to advanced age.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alicia Armeli is a Health Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering in her community.
- Shadyab, A., Macera, C., Shaffer, R., Jain, S., Gallo, L., & Gass, M. et al. (2016). Ages at menarche and menopause and reproductive lifespan as predictors of exceptional longevity in women. Menopause, 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/gme.0000000000000710
- Brubaker, M. (2016, July). Hot Flash: Women Who Start Menstruation and Menopause Later More Likely to Live to 90. UC San Diego Health. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2016-07-27-women-live-longer-if-menstuation-and-menopause-begins-later.aspx
- Fertility Coalition. (2016). Your fertility—Smoking and fertility. Retrieved 15 September 2016, from http://yourfertility.org.au/for-women/smoking-and-fertility/