How we feel about ourselves and our ability to adapt to an accumulation of challenging life experiences may be as important – or more important – than health factors in determining if we survive to be 100 years old, according to research from the University of Georgia.
Lead author Leonard Poon and colleagues at the Institute of Gerontology used data collected as part of the Georgia Centenarian Study to measure psychological and social factors in addition to genetics and health of so-called expert survivors.
Two hundred forty-four people age100 years or older were studied between 2001 and 2009.
A majority of past research on the oldest of the old focused on health factors, but the researchers found that centenarians' feelings about their own health, well-being and support systems, rather than measures such as blood pressure and blood sugar are stronger predictors of survival.
Personality also determined how well the centenarians reacted to life stress and change, and therefore whether they were as happy in their old age as they were when young. Healthy 100-year-olds had personalities described as open and conscientious. Neurotic personalities tended to be less healthy, the study found.
An individual confronted with a stressful situation can either find a quick emotional solution or ruminate on the problem, explained Poon. "One is very destructive in terms of general well-being," he said, "and the other is very adaptive."
"Understanding health in these terms has huge implications for quality of life," said Leonard Poon, director of the Institute of Gerontology in the UGA College of Public Health and lead author of the study. "What is happening to you matters, but more importantly, it is your perception of what is happening to you that is really important for your individual health."
Other research from the Georgia Centenarian found that performance of regular exercise throughout the lifespan will both lengthen life and postpone and compact end-of-life disability. A decrease in physical activity accelerates a decline in health, explained Elaine Cress, professor at the Institute of Gerontology.
Leonard W. Poon, Peter Martin, Alex Bishop, Jinmyoung Cho, Grace da Rosa, Neha Deshpande, Robert Hensley, Maurice MacDonald, Jennifer Margrett, G. Kevin Randall, John L. Woodard, L. Stephen Miller. Understanding Centenarians' Psychosocial Dynamics and Their Contributions to Health and Quality of Life. Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research, Published online 2010 September 26. doi: 10.1155/2010/680657.Picture Credit