It's Hip to Live Past 100

Staying active, current may be key to centenarian's success, survey finds

THURSDAY, April 5, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- What's the secret of those who survive into the triple-digits? It might be that they are keen on keeping up the latest trends, including iPods, current events and even MTV, a new survey finds.

In its second annual 100 at 100 Survey, Evercare, a health insurance plan that specializes in older people, polled 100 centenarians about their secrets of successful aging.

One of the respondents, George Reed, age 103, attributes his health and longevity to luck. But he has also spent much of his life being active, and remains so today.

Once an avid baseball player and cyclist, Reed still practices T'ai Chi daily, plays bingo and keeps up with news and current events.

"I read the newspaper rather regularly and manage to keep up with what's going on," Reed said.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are now more than 80,000 Americans 100 years of age or older. That number is expected to rise to more than 580,000 by 2040.

Among the main findings of the survey were the tendencies of centenarians to tune into trends and current events, lead healthy lifestyles and hold faith and spirituality in high regard, Dr. John Mach, CEO of Evercare, said in a prepared statement.

The survey found that nearly a third of the respondents have watched a reality TV show, and 27 percent have watched MTV or music videos.

Six percent have spent time on the Internet, and four percent said they have listened to music on an iPod.

When asked who they trust the most to tell the truth, 34 percent of the centenarians said they trusted their spiritual leader (e.g., priest, rabbi, minister). This echoed the results of last year's survey, which indicated the centenarians attribute their longevity to faith and spiritual care more than genes and medical care.

Reed, a practicing Catholic, agreed. "Prayer has gotten to be quite a thing with me," he said.

Eighty-two percent of the survey respondents said their dietary habits had improved or stayed the same, compared with 50 years ago.

While 40 percent of the respondents said they turn to newspapers for news and current events, 68 percent rely on television.

So, what do experts call the keys to successful aging?

While good genes can help you live a longer, healthier life, balancing your genes with a healthy lifestyle is also important, doctors say.

"Maintaining good health behaviors throughout one's life may lead to longer survival and better health," said Dr. Dellara Terry, co-director of the New England Centenarian Study and assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine.

Terry lists avoiding smoking, exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet (with reasonable portions) among health behaviors to aim for. She also advocates exercising your mind.

"In the context of 'use it or lose it,' " Terry said, "there is an increasing body of evidence that suggests exercising one's brain may in fact benefit one's health."

Terry and her colleagues are currently following more than 1,000 centenarians to see how genetic and environmental factors contribute to their health and longevity.

While you cannot have complete control over how long you will live, having good health habits, following your health care providers' advice and staying socially and mentally engaged will go a long way in improving the quality and -- perhaps -- the quantity of your life, the experts said.

More information

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about healthy aging.

SOURCES: George Reed, centenarian, Silver Spring, Md; Dellara F. Terry, M.D., M.P.H., co-director, New England Centenarian Study, and assistant professor, Boston University School of Medicine; Evercare, press release, April 3, 2007
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