The genetic make-up of sperm changes as a man ages and develops DNA code that favours a longer life – a trait he then passes to his children.
The team found the link after analysing the DNA of 1,779 young adults.
Their work appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Experts have known for some time that lifespan is linked to the length of structures known as telomeres that sit at the end of the chromosomes that house our genetic code, DNA. Generally, a shorter telomere length means a shorter life expectancy.
Like the plastic tips on shoelaces, telomeres protect chromosomal ends from damage. But in most cells, they shorten with age until the cells are no longer able to replicate.
However, scientists have discovered that in sperm, telomeres lengthen with age.