Most Americans will live into their late seventies. But, an increasing number of people are reaching age 100 and beyond. In the US, there are about 70,000 of these centenarians, but the Census Bureau expects that number to climb to over 580,000 by 2040.
How can you become a centenarian? One great way to start is to study people who have enjoyed exceptionally long lives. That is exactly what researchers at Boston University’s School of Medicine have been doing since 1994.
These researchers have discovered many interesting findings that give clues as to what it takes to reach the grand age of 100 and beyond. Wondering if you share any traits with these centenarians? For each question that you can answer “yes” to, give yourself one point.
The New England Centenarian Study has found that the majority of people age 100 and older are female. The bright spot for men is that those who do reach centenarian status are generally healthy and fit, since they have been able to avoid the kinds of diseases that usually affect older people. Researchers also found that woman who were able to have a baby naturally at age 40 or older were more likely to live to be beyond 100, possibly indicating that their bodies age more slowly than others do.
There is a lot of evidence that obesity is linked to serious and life-threatening health problems, like heart failure and stroke. It makes sense that the average centenarian was able to remain slender.
Smoking can also increase your risk of developing a range of diseases, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, and cancer. Not surprisingly, researchers discovered that centenarians did not smoke or smoked very little in their lifetimes.
According to the researchers, the centenarians in their study possessed strategies for dealing with stressful events in a healthy way. Having good coping skills may add years to your life, especially considering that too much stress can worsen problems like depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure.
Some characteristics of an extroverted style include getting a lot of enjoyment from being around people, having an optimistic attitude, and being less cautious in new situations. The New England Centenarian Study found that the study participants leaned more toward extroversion than neuroticism (experiencing a lot of negative emotions, like anxiety and fearfulness).
Your grandparents, parents, and older siblings may give you a glimpse as to what your life expectancy might be. There may be genetic factors—longevity genes—that contribute to being a part of the centenarian club.
You can improve your odds with these tips for a longer and healthier life:
- Take care of your health. If you have a family history of chronic conditions, like heart disease, work with your doctor. Find out what you can do to lower your risk, like making lifestyle changes or taking medicine.
- Avoid smoking. If you are currently a smoker, ask your doctor for strategies to quit.
- If you drink alcohol, only drink in moderation. This means one drink per day for a woman and two drinks for a man. There is some evidence that moderate alcohol use may ward off dementia. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, can lead to liver damage and other physical and mental health conditions.
- Handle stress more effectively. By working with a therapist, you can learn coping strategies and relaxation techniques that can make difficult times easier to get through.
- Let your extroverted side come out to play. Socializing with friends and family and adopting an optimist attitude may help you live longer and enjoy each day more.
- Eat a healthy diet. Adopting the Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on plant-based foods (eg, fruits, veggies, grains) and olive oil may help to reduce your risk of cognitive impairment. Eating more fish may also offer benefits.
- Exercise regularly. Beyond lowering your risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, being physically active may also improve the way your brain works and decrease your risk of cognitive impairment.
- Keep your brain busy. There is some evidence you can keep cognitive impairment at bay by challenging your brain. Engage in activities that you find mentally stimulating, and try learning something new!
By staying healthy and active, it is possible to get the most out of your life when you reach age 90 and beyond. On the National Centenarian Awareness Project website, there are numerous stories illustrating just that. George, age 100, has been an avid bowler for 93 years! The secret to a long life may be to take good care of yourself and do what you love!
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Last reviewed May 2011 by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
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