New study looks at why some African Americans are living longer, healthy lives

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Ambassador Theodore Britton has spent 91 years on the move.

"I've done about 166 countries," Britton says. "And (visited) about 49 of the 50 states, not to mention the territories."

A Marine in World War Two, then the Korean War, banker, father of 5, and U.S. diplomat, Britton is long-retired now, but he rarely stays still, even for interviews.

"I'm sitting like this right now. But I can also do like this," Britton says, pushing off of his chair with his arms and legs. "I can do like that. I can do like that. It's a matter of, 'Do you want an active body or do you want a sedentary body?'"

So what is Britton's secret?

That is the question cardiologist and Professor of Medicine Dr. Herman Taylor and teams from both Morehouse and Emory Schools of Medicine are trying to answer with a study of Black health resilience, funded by the American Heart Association.

They're investigating why some African Americans are defying the odds, outliving their peers by 10, 20, even 30 years.

"Those people are out there and they're brilliant and dramatic examples in our midst," says Dr. Taylor. "We see them day in and day out. We see them at family reunions."

Britton believes his longevity is partly due to good luck, but mostly because he's willing to work hard today, to be healthy tomorrow.

"That means keep moving, keep thinking, keeping your mind active," he explains.

The Heart Association estimates nearly half of African Americans have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, if not the disease itself.

So, the researchers are tracking hundreds of Black volunteers from across metro Atlanta, at all levels of health.

They're looking at their health history, the environments in which they live and work, their lifestyle habits, even their genetic makeup, searching for clues that could help African Americans live longer in the future.

"What we want to do is have as many people as possible reach 90 and 100 and look great and are vigorous and active, and cognitively-intact," Dr. Taylor says. "That is the goal. To do that, we need to understand more about how those people get there, what their approach to life is, even down to their genes."

Theordore Britton would love to help, if he can slow down that long.

"I find something new every day," he says. "Something interesting."