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Centenarians reveal their secrets to a long, happy life

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Posted: Sunday, May 18, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:38 am, Fri Oct 3, 2014.

(BPT) - One hundred years ago, the average American’s life expectancy was between 50 and 60 years, and so the estimated 53,000 centenarians in the United States today have lived much longer than most of their contemporaries. Perhaps that is why a new survey shows that these 100-year-olds feel “blessed” (36 percent), “happy” (31 percent) and “surprised” (12 percent) to have lived so long. Not one reports feeling sad or burdened; only 3 percent say they feel lonely.

For the past nine years, UnitedHealthcare has conducted a survey of 100 100-year-olds to gain insight into their lives. For its most recent 100@100 survey, the company also polled 65-year-old baby boomers to examine how the attitudes and lifestyles of people entering their retirement years compare to those who hit that same age 35 years ago.

According to the study, one thing both groups agreed on is that they feel younger than their years. On average, the centenarians surveyed said they feel just 83 years old, while 65-year-old baby boomers said they feel 55 years old.

“It’s encouraging that older Americans feel more youthful than the number of candles on their birthday cake might suggest,” said Rhonda Randall, D.O., chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions. UnitedHealthcare serves more than a quarter of America’s centenarians through its Medicare plans. “By looking at how they are living their daily lives, we can glean important insights about the keys to staying healthy and feeling vibrant as we age.”

The following are some of the secrets to healthy aging, as revealed by the 100@100 survey.

Secret 1: Keep up with exercise.

Despite their age, centenarians stay active: more than half walk or hike and nearly a third do strength-training exercises. Some even run outdoors or play team sports every week (4 percent). Exercise is an important part of boomers’ lifestyle as well. Nearly 3 in 4 walk or hike each week, 37 percent do strength-training exercises and 13 percent run outdoors or play team sports.

Secret 2: Get preventive care to stay healthy.

Older Americans are taking the saying “an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure” to heart by keeping up with preventive health care services to stay well. Nearly 9 in 10 get an annual exam (87 percent of centenarians and 89 percent of baby boomers) with their primary care physician, and the majority also report getting eye exams regularly (71 percent of centenarians and 76 percent of baby boomers).

Secret 3: Maintain a positive attitude.

Both centenarians and baby boomers say maintaining their physical health and a positive attitude are equally important to successful aging (66 percent and 81 percent, respectively). In fact, 82 percent of centenarians say laughing/having a sense of humor is important to healthy aging.

Perhaps the most important lesson revealed in the 100@100 survey findings is that living a long, healthy life is about more than just genetics. Daily habits and lifestyle choices can make a difference not only in how long people live but also in how they feel as they age.

For more information on how to stay healthy beyond 65, visit nihseniorhealth.gov. For complete 100@100 survey results, visit the news room on UHC.com.

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