US Centenarians Feel Younger Than Their Years, Blessed To Have Lived So Long

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Centenarians and baby boomers both report feeling younger than their years, according to a new UnitedHealthcare survey. On average, the centenarians surveyed say they feel just 83 years old, while 65-year-old baby boomers say they feel 55 years old on average.

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.

In reflecting back on their lives, more than half of centenarians (53 percent) say they have accomplished everything they would like to do in life, but nearly a third feel that 100 years just wasn’t enough. More than 1 in 5 (22 percent) say they would like just a few more years; only 8 percent say it would take many more years to accomplish all of their life goals.

The ninth annual UnitedHealthcare 100@100 survey polled 65-year-old baby boomers in addition to 100-year-olds to examine how the attitudes and lifestyles of Americans entering their retirement years compare to those who hit that same age 35 years ago. UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, the nation’s largest business dedicated to the health and well-being needs of seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries, serves more than 14,600 of the estimated 53,000 centenarians nationwide through its portfolio of Medicare plans.

The US Census Bureau projects the centenarian population will grow to more than 600,000 by 2050. This year’s 100@100 survey finds nearly 3 in 10 baby boomers (29 percent) say they expect to hit the century mark. If their expectations hold true, there could be more than 3.6 million centenarians in 35 years’ time.

Centenarians’ and Boomers’ Keys to Staying Well in Body and Spirit
For centenarians, the keys to healthy aging are staying close to friends and family (91 percent), maintaining a sense of independence (88 percent), and eating right (86 percent). Baby boomers’ top three keys to healthy aging all have to do with mindset: They rank maintaining a sense of independence first (87 percent), tied with laughing/having a sense of humor. Staying close to family and friends (84 percent) comes in third for the 65-year-olds.

Both groups report actively managing their physical health. Nearly 9 in 10 see their primary care physician for an annual exam (87 percent of centenarians and 89 percent of baby boomers). More than 7 in 10 keep up with their vaccines, such as flu shots and shingles vaccinations (73 percent of centenarians and 72 percent of baby boomers); similar majorities also report getting their eyes examined regularly (71 percent of centenarians and 76 percent of baby boomers).

“This year’s 100@100 survey paints an encouraging and exciting view of longevity in the United States, which is especially significant since the number of centenarians in this country is expected to swell in the coming years,” said Rhonda Randall, DO, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions. “Both centenarians and baby boomers report feeling more youthful than the number of birthdays they’ve had, which is in part due to the proactive measures they’re taking to monitor and improve their health. This is a good reminder for all Americans to take charge of their health now so that they can enjoy life for many years to come.”

In addition to getting preventive care, both centenarians and baby boomers are staying active. The majority of centenarians and baby boomers say they walk or hike at least once per week (56 percent and 74 percent, respectively). Approximately one-third of centenarians and baby boomers say they do strength-training exercises every week (32 percent and 37 percent, respectively). Other top physical activities include indoor cardio exercise (23 percent of centenarians and 39 percent of baby boomers) and gardening (21 percent of centenarians and 47 percent of baby boomers).

Centenarians vs. Boomers on Nostalgia, Milestones and “Turning Into Your Mother”
When asked what stage in life they remember most fondly, both centenarians and baby boomers express the most nostalgia for their 30s (20 percent and 24 percent, respectively). Baby boomers also reflect fondly on their 20s (20 percent). But for some, life only got better with age. Nearly 1 in 10 centenarians (9 percent) express the most fondness for ages 70 and up, with 3 percent saying the best time in their life is now.

Both centenarians and baby boomers say getting married and the birth of a child are the two life milestones they remember most warmly, but they prioritize the two differently. Baby boomers are more likely to choose the birth of a child (32 percent) over getting married (20 percent), as opposed to centenarians, who chose getting married (27 percent) over the birth of a child (14 percent). Baby boomers’ next-favorite milestone is the birth of a grandchild (12 percent); for centenarians, it is completing their education and securing their first job (5 percent each).

Many Americans can relate to the concept of “turning into” their mother or father with age–but that is not the case for the baby boomers and centenarians surveyed. When asked at what age they first felt like they “turned into” or “became” their mother or father, respondents’ most popular answer is: It never happened (39 percent of centenarians and 48 percent of baby boomers). Of those who say they eventually “became” their mother or father, centenarians are most likely to say it happened in their 20s (15 percent), while baby boomers say it happened in their 50s (13 percent).

Baby Boomers More Pessimistic Than Centenarians about America’s Future
More than half of baby boomers (58 percent) say the United States is headed in the wrong direction, but just 36 percent of centenarians agree. Baby boomers are also more likely than centenarians to say Americans’ values have worsened during their lifetime (76 percent compared with 45 percent of centenarians).

One thing that both groups agree on: the country seems to be in more discord than ever. Despite having lived through several tense time periods in the nation’s history, including the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, more than half of centenarians (59 percent) and nearly three-fourths of baby boomers (73 percent) believe now is the most politically divided the country has been in their lifetime.

More than half of centenarians (56 percent) and more than one-third of baby boomers (39 percent) did not expect to see a black president in their lifetime, but both groups anticipate another historic first in our nation’s leadership: A majority of centenarians and baby boomers expect to see a woman president in their lifetime (60 percent and 85 percent, respectively).

For Centenarians, President Obama Unseats Betty White at the Dinner Table
Betty White has been ousted from her long-time perch at the top of centenarians’ list of favorite dinner guests. When asked which famous people they would invite to a dinner party, the most popular choice for centenarians is President Obama (71 percent). Betty White topped centenarians’ lists for four years in a row–but this year she comes in second, with 66 percent of centenarians wanting to extend an invitation to her. Hillary Clinton rounds out the top three, with 56 percent. The least likely celebrity to get a dinner invitation from centenarians is Kanye West (4 percent).

Betty White is baby boomers’ most sought-after dinner guest for the third year in a row, with 83 percent saying they would invite her to a dinner party. The next most popular choice is Tom Hanks (79 percent), followed by Pope Francis (73 percent). Least likely to get an invite from baby boomers: Miley Cyrus (12 percent) and Kanye West’s fiancée, Kim Kardashian (10 percent).

Sources: US Census, census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-09.pdf; UnitedHealthcare, uhc.com