100 not out

Centurians or centenarians?

Not everyone wants to live to be one hundred, to be a centurian or a centenarian, but more and more people are doing so .

To learn how they did it one can simply interview them and United Healthcare, a huge insurance company in the USA did that in what the call their 100@100 survey. The good news is that “On average, the centenarians surveyed say they feel just 83 years old…When asked how they feel about living to 100, centenarians’ top three answers are “blessed” (36 percent), “happy” (31 percent) and “surprised” (12 percent). Not one reports feeling sad or burdened; only 3 percent say they feel lonely. And more than half (53 percent) live independently, without the support of a caregiver to help them with their daily activities.”

When asked how they got there the survey concluded “For centenarians, the keys to healthy ageing are staying close to friends and family (91 percent), maintaining a sense of independence (88 percent) and eating right (86 percent).” These results emphasise one of our key messages – ageing by itself is relatively unimportant – what causes trouble is disease, loss of fitness and the wrong attitude.

Even better is to follow a group of people over time and rely less on memory and more on objective observations and this is what the Swedes have done in a huge study which started fifty years ago in Gothenberg. 855men, don’t ask why only men, were identified and have been interviewed and measured regularly for fifty years with true Swedish efficiency. Nine of the 855 made it to 100 and the findings were that.

Two of the 100-year-olds dropped out of the study due to dementia and one for personal reasons. Facts about the other seven:
• Two lived at home and five in assisted living facilities
• None of them smoked
• All of them exhibited good temporal and spatial cognition
• All of them wore hearing aids
• Most of them wore glasses, were able to read and watch TV
• All of them were slim and had good postures
• All of them used walkers

A similar study in Caerphilly produced the same results – it’s lifestyle that matters, and a positive attitude to life. But what about that old piece of useless advice – “choose your parents carefully”? Do genetics matter? We will deal with that next week.

About the author: Professor Sir Muir Gray, CBE

Muir Gray consults for springchicken.co.uk, the lifestyle website for older adults.

He recently described himself (in a tweet) as the Don Quixote of the NHS: “tilting, always tilting.” As Chief Knowledge Officer of the NHS his job was defined by what he does—promoting improved care by the better use of evidence. Born, raised, and educated in Glasgow, he was a surgeon before he turned to public health in the 1970s. In the rest of his life he is developing Better Value Healthcare, whose mission is to publish handbooks and development programmes designed to get more value from health care resources in England, and worldwide.

Muir’s most recent book: Sod 70, the guide to living well is available here>>>. He is also the Director of the National Campaign for Walking, is married with two daughters and lives in Oxford.