What Queen Elizabeth II Can Teach Us About Longevity

Queen Elizabeth II smiles as she arrives before the Opening of the Flanders' Fields Memorial Garden at Wellington Barracks

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Long lived the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II has died at age 96. Britain’s longest-reigning monarch lived a remarkably long life—over 30 years longer than other women also born in 1926 in the United Kingdom.

Even for those born today, the average life expectancy for women isn’t much higher than 80 years, both in the U.K. and the U.S.

It’s difficult to talk about the Queen without talking about her longevity. After all, as the Washington Post noted, at least nine out of 10 humans alive today were born after she became Queen.

It’s equally hard to pinpoint what exactly contributes to a long lifespan. For every study indicating that diet, exercise, and abstaining from smoking and drinking help you live longer, there’s another suggesting those things don’t matter as much as we thought.

So what’s the answer? Outside of lifestyle habits, what determines why one person lives to be 100 while another dies in their 60s? 

Research from the last decade points to three factors: good genes, happy relationships, and of course—wealth. 

  • Genetics: A 2021 study out of Italy and Switzerland showed that people who live longer than 105 years are more efficient at repairing DNA. Specifically, these centenarians were more likely to have variations in genes called COA1 and STK17A, the latter of which can kill off damaged cells in tissue.
  • Relationships: After tracking participants for nearly 80 years, Harvard researchers believe they’ve identified something that influences longevity even more than good genes: close relationships. In fact, study director Robert Waldigner, MD, said satisfaction in relationships at middle age is a better predictor of a healthy old age than cholesterol levels. Strong social support also protects against mental deterioration as you age.
  • Financial security: While there’s little research on income levels and longevity, a 2021 study from Northwestern University was the first to analyze sibling data to show how wealth can impact lifespan even when most other biological factors are the same. The analysis of 5,414 participants showed people with a higher net worth by midlife had a significantly lower risk of dying over the next 24 years than their lower-income siblings.

Reading about these slightly-beyond-our control factors may sting in the U.S., where life expectancy just dropped for the second year in a row due to COVID-19. That’s why practicing healthy habits still matters.

Even if we can’t definitely say these modifiable risk factors will lengthen your life, wearing a mask will protect you from getting COVID-19; getting enough sleep will reduce your risk of heart disease; quitting smoking will lower your odds of lung cancer; staying active will bolster cognitive functioning.

In addition to all of the advantages afforded to a person in a position of power, healthy habits mattered to Queen Elizabeth, too. 

Queen Elizabeth reportedly slept eight and a half hours per night. She didn’t smoke—in fact, she encouraged her husband to quit—but she drank in moderation. While she wasn’t exactly known for vigorous exercise, biographers recall her commitment to horseback riding and penchant for walking.

If you do nothing else for your health today, get your steps in. And take a corgi if you can. 

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Anisa Arsenault
Anisa joined the company in 2018 after managing news surrounding fertility, pregnancy, and parenting for The Bump. Her health and wellness articles have appeared in outlets like Prevention and Metro US. At Verywell, she is responsible for the news program, which includes coverage of COVID-19.