Surviving the century mark is a milestone few reach. And how we feel about ourselves and our ability to adapt to life experiences may be as or even more important than health factors.
University of Georgia researchers looked at psychological and social factors as well as the genetics and health of "expert survivors."
Researchers looked at a total of 244 people aged 100 and over between 2001 and 2009 and found that critical life events and personal history, along with how people adapt to and cope with stressful situations are crucial to successful aging.
Or to put it another way: “What is happening to you matters, but more importantly, it is your perception of what is happening to you that is really important for your individual health,” said lead author of the study Leonard Poon, director of the Institute of Gerontology in the UGA College of Public Health.
Individuals who can find a quick emotional solution to a problem fare better than those who ruminate on the problem, Poon said. “One is very destructive in terms of general well-being ... and the other is very adaptive.”
Physical activity is also important.
“By understanding physical decline in functioning, caregivers can help maintain a high quality of life for the centenarian with appropriate support,” said Elaine Cress, who also is a faculty member in the department of kinesiology in the UGA College of Education. “We developed a scale to assess physical performance, which has not been done before with centenarians. This can be used in future research to predict when people are going to start needing more help. They need to know how to plan, and society needs to know how to plan, too."
There are an estimated 50,454 centenarians in the U.S., a number which is expected to balloon to more than 800,000 by 2050.