People are living longer than ever before. There were 53,364 centenarians in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. And that number is projected to increase to more than 600,000 by 2050.
If these citizens were to retire at age 65, they will have 35 years of retired life. A long life may prove to be a mixed blessing because of the significant financial requirements that will be necessary to subsidize extended years. This aging population will also need to come up with a fulfilling and engaging retired lifestyle that takes into account their advanced years.
But even with the numerous challenges, the thought of breaking into the triple-digit age bracket can be intriguing. Assuming we remain relatively healthy during our bonus years, think of how much more productive each life could be. Additional years of experience and learning could make us into more well-rounded individuals. With more time, we can do more of what we like to do.
A variety of factors have combined to add to our longevity. There have obviously been advances in medical care and improvements in nutrition. There are also support networks and communities where older individuals can live and engage in quality lives. If you ask those who have made it to 100 about their longevity, they share a collection of insights:
Lifestyle. Just over a third of centenarians (35 percent) say their long life is due to their healthy lifestyle, which includes getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy diet, limiting consumption of alcohol, and not smoking, according to a United HealthCare and GfK Roper survey of 100 people age 99 or older.
Technology. Most centenarians don't attribute their longevity to the latest technology. Some 44 percent of centenarians say the electric refrigerator is the technological innovation that had the most impact on their life, United HealthCare found. Many centenarians don't even use recent technological innovations. Only 13 percent have access to the Internet, 6 percent use e-mail, and none of those surveyed have used Twitter.
Genes. Many centenarians attribute their longevity to their genes (27 percent). Recent studies support the critical role genetics plays in influencing longevity. The New England Centenarian Study at the Boston University School of Medicine has identified 281 genetic markers that are 61 percent accurate in predicting who is 100 years old and 85 percent accurate in predicting who is 105 years old.
Attitude. Having a positive attitude, sense of humor, and good self image can also assist in adding years to your life. A 2002 Yale University study found that older individuals with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than people with less positive views of aging.
The prospect of significant numbers of people living to be 100 is a recent development. Back at the turn of the century the average life expectancy was less than half of that. In addition, the nature of work has changed for many people from physically demanding jobs to sedentary work, which produces a different type of strain on the body.
Living longer sounds good at first, but only if during those years we are reasonably healthy and able to live as close to normal a life as possible. Few people want to live longer than the norm if their quality of life going forward is likely to be compromised. Although as we age we must reluctantly accept our diminishing capacities, we need to sustain a passion for living that makes life worthwhile.
Dave Bernard is the author of Are You Just Existing and Calling it a Life?, which offers guidelines to discover your personal passion and live a life of purpose. Not yet retired, Dave has begun his due diligence to plan for a fulfilling retirement. With a focus on the non-financial aspects of retiring, he shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only the Beginning.