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How long will you live? Check family tree

Published On: May 11 2011 03:12:10 PM CDT

The secret to longevity may be found deep in the branches of your family tree. An intriguing new study completed at the University of Utah found that pioneer women who had twins lived longer than their counterparts who gave birth to only one baby at a time. And that, experts said, could help us understand aging today.

"There is something about how women reproduce that may impact their health in later life," said lead researcher Ken R. Smith, professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah. Smith and his team looked at just more than 58,000 nonpolygamous white Utah women born between 1807 and 1899 who lived to age 50. They found women who gave birth to twins not only lived longer, but were more physically fit and more fertile.

"The findings do not mean having twins is healthy for women, but instead that healthier women have an increased chance of delivering twins," said Smith. "It's something innate that could lead her to having a longer life."

Smith and his colleagues choose to study pioneer women because they are the perfect "natural fertility population." "At that time, they weren't tinkering with their fertility," said Smith. This was before modern birth control and fertility treatments. Also, women were encouraged to have as many children as possible, especially in Utah, where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled in the 1800s.

Fast forward to 2011.

What does this mean to you? Smith said if you have a history of twins conceived naturally in your family, it may suggest that your genes are hardier than most and that you may live longer. But he stressed that while the findings are important, "this is not a prescription to have twins."

"It's complicated. There are so many factors that contribute to longevity, health and aging," he said.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Aging and appears in the May 11 edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.