Here’s a statistic that grabbed our attention recently: an estimated one in 26 baby boomers – roughly four percent – is expected to live to be 100 or older. If they do, they’ll be adding to an already swelling group of centenarians: statistics tell us that there are presently more than 53,000 people in the U.S. who are at least 100 years old, and more and more people can reasonably expect to reach that milestone in the future.
This recent article on the website Next Avenue is called “What Inspiring Centenarians Teach Us About Health.” As the article points out, all the advances in medical knowledge and greater wisdom about the importance of a good diet may play a role in helping some people reach their 10th decade of life. But for tens of thousands of centenarians, food, exercise and better medical care are only part of the picture. Things like attitude and involvement matter, too.
According to Next Avenue author Dr. Sameer Ather, you may think that the only way to reach 100 is to hit the jackpot in the gene pool and avoid major illness – but that’s not so. “There are three basic types of centenarians: survivors, delayers and escapers.” The Escapers, writes Ather, “are those who simply never developed the symptoms of the most common age-related diseases, such as dementia, heart problems or cancer.” These are indeed the ones who seem to have dodged the medical bullet, but in fact the Escapers are by far the smallest group of centenarians. Most centenarians fall into the first two categories, Survivors and Delayers. “Survivors are those who developed these (serious) diseases before the age of 80 but continued to live on in spite of them. And Delayers developed the symptoms after the age of 80.” What interests researchers is that many people are able to live on for years even with these major illnesses. “That just goes to show that many of these diseases can be overcome and that there’s something more at play here,” Dr. Ather writes.
So what are some of the ways we might help ourselves live to 100? Eat a healthy diet, for one thing. “The benefits of a healthy diet are praised left and right, and you’re most likely tired of hearing how important it is to eat right and avoid processed food, but this is one of the things most centenarians have in common,” Dr. Ather states. “Most of them cite their healthy diets as part of the reason why they’ve managed to live such a long and healthy life.” However, the actual ingredients people choose vary from place to place, and so do choices about things like alcohol consumption. Moderation seems to be the key, the article states. Whatever diet you choose, be wise and don’t overdo it.
Another piece of advice from centenarians is to “stop counting the years” and enjoy your age. A positive mental attitude works wonders in helping people age well – in fact, it seems to be something virtually all the centenarians have in common. The Next Avenue article points out that the benefits of positive thinking go beyond the purely psychological. “Mood and environmental factors can affect the way in which genes behave,” writes Dr. Ather. “In other words, living life to the fullest, regardless of the number on paper, can have tremendous health benefits.” This is one of those cases where the old saying “You’re as young as you feel” is true.
It wasn’t that long ago that the experts on aging seemed to focus on simplicity and stress avoidance as the secrets to a longer life, but for today’s 100-year-olds avoiding stress doesn’t seem to be the answer. “It was long believed that people who avoid stress tend to live longer,” states Dr. Ather. “However, it is impossible to avoid stress all of the time, especially if you live 100 years or more.” If you consider the fact that anyone who is 100 years old today has lived through not one but two devastating world wars, plus the Great Depression and the more recent so-called “Great Recession” – not to mention all of the hardships and disappointments sprinkled throughout an average life – simply trying to avoid stress can’t be the secret formula to longevity. The Next Avenue article suggests that people who live longer not only have a positive attitude but also something to “keep them afloat.” For example, “Many centenarians seem to have in common a firm connection with their community, friends and families. They’ve all found activities that help them focus and take their mind off their worries. And if you haven’t started living life to the fullest, it’s never too late to decide what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.”
The final point in the Next Avenue article is one we’ve all heard before: if you want to live longer, stay active. This may mean starting a simple exercise regimen late in life, or it may mean taking on a part-time job or a volunteer gig that keeps you moving. Sadly we have all known people who have allowed themselves to grow increasingly sedentary as they have gotten older, only to develop a host of health problems that could have been avoided. It’s all part of a healthy aging process. “Age can stop you from doing the things you enjoy only if you let it,” writes Dr. Ather. “What is remarkable about the lives of the centenarians is not just their longevity, but the fact that they’re still enjoying themselves. These two seem to go hand in hand.”
Maybe you’re not about to turn 100, but you are getting serious about planning for retirement. If that’s the case, we know a great way for you to have a positive attitude about the process: find out about LifePlanning. That’s our term for a unique, comprehensive approach to retirement planning that takes all the vital facets of your retirement into account: finances, medical care, housing choices, legal protection and family communication. You owe it to yourself to find out how LifePlanning can transform your retirement from fear and uncertainty to confidence and security. Learn more by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars offered without obligation throughout the region. For dates, times and locations — plus online registration — click here. Or if you prefer you can call us during the week for assistance.
Planning to live to 100? We’re ready to assist you in getting ready for a wonderful journey.
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)