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There are roughly 70,000 centenarians in the United States. About one-third are doing quite well and living without any cognitive impairment or other functional disability. Estimates are that by the middle of this century, 800,000 Americans will be centenarians.
The increased scientific attention to longevity has uncovered some common characteristics among centenarians:
Geography may play a role. Growing up in harsh physical environments may be an advantage. Scientists have observed a prevalence of centenarians in a belt running through the Dakotas and Minnesota up through Nova Scotia. Sardinia and Okinawa also have disproportionate pockets of centenarians, yet no one knows why.
It helps to be female: 85 percent of centenarians are women, but male centenarians tend to be in better shape than women. Women who have children after age 40 stand a greater chance of living to 100.
People who live to the age of 100 are born to relatively young parents.
Genetics is a big factor, but lifestyle is critical, too. The Adventist Health Study at California’s Loma Linda University found that members of the Adventist faith with good lifelong habits such as healthy diets, exercise and not smoking had an average life expectancy of about 10 years longer than the U.S. population as a whole.
A sense of humor is important. “We wonder if that’s part of some interesting personality traits that are conducive to managing stress well,” according to Perls. When he asked a husband-centenarian how he kept his centenarian wife happy, the husband said, “If I told you, you’d lose your job.”