Living to 100 takes more than a good diet and exercise

Volume 12    |   Issue 47

Is your glass half full or half empty? Believe it or not, your answer to that question may be an accurate predictor of how long you will live. More accurate, in fact, than whether that glass contains a healthy beverage like green tea or a dangerously sugary concoction.

According to a study conducted in Hong Kong of Chinese centenarians and near-centenarians, the factors that have the biggest impact on successful aging might not be what you would expect. For this study, published in Aging & Mental Health, the researchers developed a four-factor Successful Aging Index (SAI). The factors were physical and functional health (PF), psychological well-being and cognition (PC), social engagement and family support (SF), and economic resources and financial security (EF).

They analyzed information from 120 participants ranging in age from 95 to 108 and found that only 5.8% met their standards for successful aging in all four areas. Surprisingly, the fewest participants met the standards in the PF dimension, while the PC dimension had the most successful participants.

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The researchers interviewed the participants to rate their health and also ran multiple regression models to determine correlations. Independent predictors of the SAI score included living with loved ones, being very optimistic, having fewer diseases, and experiencing barriers to social activities. There also was a high level of association between SAI and interviewer-rated health, as well as SAI and high levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.

Clearly, many factors play a role in whether or not you'll live to be a hundred. And physical health is definitely significant. But aging is complex, and this study reminds us that having strong social connections and taking steps to maintain good emotional and mental health can be just as important.

So consider joining the group next time a friend invites you to play trivia or celebrate a special occasion at a restaurant. The connections you make may help you live longer — they could even outweigh the effects of the fries you just couldn't resist. Or if you'd like to tackle multiple factors that affect aging at once, invite a friend to try a new exercise class with you. You'll benefit your mind and your body while increasing your social engagement.

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