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We can learn a lot from centenarians

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to live your life with absolutely no regrets. If this is difficult to envision now, just give it some time – maybe even a few decades. According to new research, many of the longest-living Americans wouldn’t change a thing about how they lived their lives.

To celebrate Older Americans Month, UnitedHealthcare released the results of its eighth annual 100@100 survey, which examines the lives and lifestyles of centenarians. Half of the 100-year-olds polled this year said they would not change a single thing about the way they lived their lives.

Baby boomers approaching traditional retirement age weren’t nearly as content with their past. Of the 300 60- to 65-year-olds who were surveyed to provide a comparison to the centenarians, less than one in three said they could look back without wishing they could make some changes in how they’ve lived. More than a quarter said they wish they had saved more money; only 6 percent of the centenarians said the same.

Of course, no one knows exactly what it takes to live to 100, but with the centenarian population in the United States projected to increase from 53,000 in 2013 to more than 600,000 in 2050, increased attention is being paid to the secrets of our most senior seniors.

Year after year, the 100@100 survey shows centenarians are not taking their health for granted: Majorities are exercising every week and making healthful choices in their diet. But this year’s findings put fresh emphasis on the emotional and mental components of health. A senior who can reflect on his or her life without regret has peace – the kind that enhances one’s sense of well-being and can make for a more satisfying life; maybe even a longer one.

And we can all learn a thing or two about how to attain this peace from the centenarians and other older adults in our lives. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 4,605 centenarians in New York. If you are lucky enough to know one of them (or someone approaching 100), remember to reach out to them, especially during Older Americans Month. Their perspective may be just the reminder you need of what’s most important for a healthy, happy life.

Jennifer Cohen-Smith

Regional Vice President

UnitedHealthcare in Upstate New York