Everyone wants a nice long life — I’m planning on 80 myself — but the way technology is advancing, perhaps I’m setting my sights too low. Is living to be 100 a realistic goal?
A recent study published in International Psychogeriatrics has explored what it takes to make it to the century mark. Researchers visited Italy’s Cilento region — an area known for longevity, and analyzed the physical and mental health of 29 villagers, ages 90 to 101. (There have been many studies done like this, but most of these have focused solely on genetics, diet and physical health.) The villagers answered standardized questionnaires and were interviewed on topics like migration, traumatic events and beliefs. In addition. younger family members were also asked about the personality traits of their older relatives.
Not surprisingly, some common traits emerged. The oldsters were described by the younger villagers as controlling, domineering and stubborn. But they also displayed qualities of resilience and adaptability to change.
Dr. Dilip Jeste, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and senior author on the study, says this shows how adults who live to advanced age have learned to balance these somewhat contradictory traits. “These people have been through depressions, they’ve been through migrations, they’ve lost loved ones. In order to flourish, they have to be able to accept and recover from the things they can’t change, but also fight for the things they can.”
Other qualities they had in common were also identified. These included positivity, a strong work ethic and close bonds with family, religion and the countryside. Most of the older adults in the study were still active, working regularly in their homes and on their land. This gave them a sense of purpose, even in old age.
The study also compared the health of these older residents with 59 of their younger family members, ages 51 to 75. Not surprisingly, the oldest adults had the worse physical health. But they also showed better mental well-being, and scored higher on tests of self-confidence and decision-making skills.
Dr. Jeste calls this the paradox of aging: Even as physical health deteriorated, mental health quality, at least for people in this study, remained high. “Things like happiness and satisfaction with life went up, and levels of depression and stress went down. It’s the opposite of what we might expect when we think about aging, but it shows that getting older is not all gloom and doom.”
Studying adults who live long and healthy lives can help enhance scientists’ understanding of the aging process, says Jeste, and help determine how age-related health issues can potentially be mitigated or avoided. It can also give adults of any age — anywhere in the world — more insight into how to extend their own lives. Dr. Jeste adds, “There is no one way to get to 90 or 100, and I don’t think it requires a radical change in personality. But this shows that there are certain attributes that are very important, including resilience, strong social support and engagement, and having confidence in yourself.”
Taken from “People Who Live to 100 Have These Traits in Common” by Amanda MacMillan, http://time.com/5061891/live-to-100-personality-traits/? .