You love your work—and you finally scored that huge promotion. You’ve just bought a one-way ticket to backpack through Europe. You don’t want to trade city life for the ‘burbs just yet. All compelling reasons to wait until your 30s—or older—to have children.
In fact, a new study suggests an interesting link between later childbirth and reaching a ripe old age. The researchers looked at more than 450 women who’d had at least one kid. Moms who had their last baby at age 33 or older were twice as likely to live to 95 as those who stopped procreating by age 29, according to findings just published online in Menopause.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can register for the fountain of youth at Babies “R” Us. “We don’t want to mislead women into thinking that if they have a child at an older age, they would be guaranteed a longer life. That would be a misinterpretation of the data,” says Margery Gass, M.D., executive director of The North American Menopause Society and editor of the journal.
Rather, common underlying factors (some genetic, some within your control) likely extend both your reproductive years and your life. Older women who can get pregnant without infertility treatments probably don’t have bad habits that harm their eggs and uterus—or health problems like heart attacks, strokes, or diabetes. “If their reproductive system is aging so slowly, the rest of them is probably as well,” says study author Thomas Perls, M.D., M.P.H., of Boston University Medical Center.
The findings might help scientists pinpoint genes that code for reaching extreme old age in good health, Perls says. In the meantime, they could also provide comfort to women who put off having a family. “There may be some folks who say, 'Oh, you’re having a kid now? Well, isn’t it unfair to your child that you’ll be in your 60s when they’re in their late teens?'" Perls says. “But if a woman is able to do this naturally, that probably means they’re aging terrifically well.” For her, 60 really will be the new 40.
And about those longevity genes—you probably need them if you’re going to pass 90. Having family members who live extremely long lives is a much stronger predictor of doing so yourself than is being an older mom, Perls notes. (He also runs a website Livingto100.com that helps you calculate your odds of becoming a centenarian.)
But regardless, you can take steps now that preserve your fertility and increase your lifespan. “Do not smoke, keep body weight within the normal range, stay active to keep muscles fit and flexibility intact—all of this will help us age well,” Dr. Gass says. Smoking alone can hasten menopause by a year or two, she says, while also harming your heart.