Oxidative stress is both the cause and consequence of impaired functional homeostasis characterizing human aging. The worsening efficiency of stress response with age represents a health risk and leads to the onset and accrual of major age-related diseases. In contrast, centenarians seem to have evolved conservative stress response mechanisms, probably derived from a combination of a diet rich in natural antioxidants, an active lifestyle and a favorable genetic background, particularly rich in genetic variants able to counteract the stress overload at the level of both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. The integration of these factors could allow centenarians to maintain moderate levels of free radicals that exert beneficial signaling and modulator effects on cellular metabolism. Considering the hot debate on the efficacy of antioxidant supplementation in promoting healthy aging, in this review we gathered the existing information regarding genetic variability and lifestyle factors which potentially modulate the stress response at old age. Evidence reported here suggests that the integration of lifestyle factors (moderate physical activity and healthy nutrition) and genetic background could shift the balance in favor of the antioxidant cellular machinery by activating appropriate defense mechanisms in response to exceeding external and internal stress levels, and thus possibly achieving the prospect of living a longer life.
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