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Smiles and love: 6 rules for a long, healthy life from 100-year-olds

What's life like when you turn 100? A new survey offers some fascinating insights into the habits and psychology of centenarians.
/ Source: TODAY

What’s life like when you turn 100? With thousands of Americans reaching that milestone, a new survey offers some fascinating insights into the habits and psychology of centenarians.

The majority think of themselves decades younger than they really are — feeling 79 on average. They love being around friends and family, reading and listening to music. Only 1 percent have ever taken a selfie.

“Why would anyone take selfies?” one puzzled respondent asked.

The findings are based on answers from 100 U.S. centenarians interviewed for the annual UnitedHealthcare 100@100 survey, released on Thursday.

Many of the answers show that how you think is as important as how you feel when you get older, the company noted.

“Year after year, we hear from centenarians that there is a correlation between healthy aging and a healthy mindset,” said Rhonda Randall, D.O., chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions, in a statement.

“It’s a good reminder for us all to take care of our mental, emotional and social health — in addition to our physical health.”

More than 53,000 centenarians live in the U.S., with 330 of them reaching “super-centenarian” status, or turning 110 or older, according to the 2010 census. Celebrating your 100th birthday isn’t that rare anymore, with the number of U.S. centenarians growing 65 percent since 1980.

Want to join their ranks?

Here are six lessons from some of the oldest Americans. To make things even more interesting, UnitedHealthcare also interviewed 100 10-year-olds to compare the perspective of some of the youngest Americans.

1. Your outlook on life is important

Some 61 percent of centenarians view themselves as being very positive, according to the new poll. A quarter believe having a positive attitude is the key to staying healthy. Almost half — 47 percent — say it gets easier to maintain a positive attitude as you age.

10-year-olds weigh in: Kids are a bit less optimistic, it seems. Only 44 percent describe themselves as very positive.

2. Keep moving

Almost half — 46 percent — of centenarians say they walk or hike at least once a week. About a third exercise to strengthen their muscles and meditate or seek some other stress-relieving activity. About a quarter do cardiovascular exercise indoors or work in a garden.

10-year-olds weigh in: Three-quarters of kids play outside at least once a week; 60 percent play active video games like Wii Sports; and about half play sports like baseball or basketball.

Read more: Wine, beans and family: Sardinia's secrets to living to 100

3. Smile

Some 84 percent of centenarians say laughing and having a sense of humor is very easy.

10-year-olds weigh in: Surprisingly, kids don't smile as often. About 68 percent find laughing and having a sense of humor is very easy.

4. Don’t focus on age

Almost two-thirds of centenarians — 60 percent — say they do not feel old. Those who do notice the weight of their years say they started feeling old in their 80s.

10-year-olds weigh in: Brace yourselves, fortysomethings. Kids say people start to get old at age 46.

Read more: Living to 100 in Loma Linda, where a healthy diet comes from the Bible

5. Appreciate your younger years

Reflecting back, on average centenarians felt the most attractive at age 31; the most energetic at 34; the happiest at 44; the healthiest at 46; and the wisest at age 49. They felt the most content at 56.

10-year-olds weigh in: At this point, kids are most excited about their "older" years, by which they mean their teens. About 15 percent look forward to being older so they can do what they want. “I will hopefully be able to stay up till 9:45 p.m. without asking," one 10-year-old said.

6. Be around loved ones

Some 97 percent of centenarians say family is important. In fact, being with family and going on vacation are some of their favorite memories. Almost half of centenarians — 45 percent — say they would rather spend time with their family more than anyone else in the world.

10-year-olds weigh in: Kids have a lot in common with centenarians here. A full 100 percent said family is important. But visiting friends and family is not their favorite thing to do — that distinction goes to watching TV and going to the movies.

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