Perhaps you’ve noticed that people seem to age a lot more gracefully than they used to—in some cases, all the way to 100 and beyond.
Most Americans are unaware that the United States has more centenarians—people 100 or older—than any other country in the world. According to The Centenarian, a British website devoted to the topic of people 100 and older, the number of centenarians in the United States is estimated to be as high as 72,000.
The US Census Bureau identified a smaller number of centenarians in 2010—53,364—and the actual number of centenarians in the United States is likely somewhere between the two figures, but still comfortably enough to represent the highest centenarian population in any country.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, during the three decades from 1980-2010 the total population of the United States grew by 34 percent. The American centenarian population, meanwhile, grew by 66 percent during those same years—nearly double the rate of the general population.
By all accounts, the explosion will only intensify as the boomer population continues to age.
The Chronicle attributes much of the increase to advances in medical care and health practices, and it seems hard to argue with that assessment. But what are some of the other factors contributing to longevity?
- Most sources investigating longevity seem to suggest the chance of reaching 100 is increased when people have deep interests of some sort. In other words, a hobby or challenge to look forward to regularly may well increase one’s will and ability to live to a ripe old age.
Given the medical and health advances the Chronicle refers to, people are able to enjoy their interests longer than members of previous generations could expect to. Even those without hobbies seem to benefit from other types of devotion.For example, 100-year-old New Jerseyan Lucille Boston Lewis offers the wisdom that the secret to long life is “God and family.”
- Minimizing or being able to handle stress also seems common to many or most centenarians. There is definitely an overlap here with the hobby/devotion factor, as there are few better ways to handle stress than to escape in a hobby, but it appears that living an uncomplicated life may contribute to longevity. Staying out of the rat race seems to help. For example, while highly urbanized Japan is the world’s per-capita leader for centenarians, a great many of Japan’s 100-and-over population are lifelong or longtime residents of rural areas or outlying islands. But even among urban dwellers—and the 2010 census indicates 86 percent of American centenarians are urban dwellers—reducing stress seems a significant factor in increasing one’s chances of breaking the 100-year barrier. For American seniors looking for longevity, stress reduction often involves keeping finances under control, and Medicare supplement insurance certainly makes that endeavor easier. Taking advantage of every Medicare service likely to help maintain optimum health is another easy way to reduce harmful stress—and Medigap makes that option budget-friendly for Medicare recipients who are serious about one day becoming centenarians … or even supercentenarians, who make it all the way to 110.
- Lifestyle seems to be a major influence on one’s chances of reaching 100. To put it mildly, the majority of centenarians do not appear to be lifelong couch potatoes. FoxNews reports that researchers associate lifestyles requiring physical activity with parts of the world—particularly, islands off China, Japan, and Cuba, and a Costa Rican peninsula—where centenarians seem to be relatively clustered. Diet also appears to be a big part of the picture, with a low-fat, largely vegetable-based diet prevalent in some parts of the world with above-average numbers of long-lived people. On Japan’s Okinawa Island, which has more centenarians per capita than anywhere else in the world, The Centenarian reports that the local diet is “filled with whole grains, vegetables, and fish. They eat very little meat and dairy. … They are probably one of the world’s largest consumers of the soy-based bean curd … shown in many scientific studies to fight disease and improve health because soy is loaded with isoflavones [which] have been shown to fight cancer and are believed to help prevent heart disease.” Other lifestyle factors that seem to increase one’s likelihood of longevity include getting sufficient sleep and refraining from dangerous habits such as smoking and excessive eating and drinking.
Economic status does not seem to be a major factor as long as basic life needs are met. Outlook, stress reduction, and sensible choices seem to influence longevity far more than money does.
Of course, good genes can help a great deal, but regardless of the genes one is dealt, individuals have enormous power to increase their chances of living long, healthy, happy lives.
What are you doing to increase your chances of celebrating your 100th birthday? Leave a comment below!
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