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Want to Live to 100? Sleep

Your chances of reaching age 100 could be better than you think – especially if you get some additional sleep and improve your diet.

New research from UnitedHealthcare looks at centenarians and baby boomers, asking the former about the “secrets of aging success” and evaluating whether the latter are taking the necessary steps to celebrate a 100th birthday.

The primary findings: Many boomers are embracing lifestyles that could lead to a long and rewarding life – with two exceptions. More than seven in 10 centenarians – 71% – say they get eight hours or more of sleep each night. By contrast, only 38% of boomers say they get the same amount of rest. And when it comes to eating right, more than eight in 10 centenarians say they regularly consume a balanced meal, compared with just over two-thirds (68%) of baby boomers.

The report – “100@100 Survey” – begins with some startling numbers. As of late 2010, the U.S. had an estimated 72,000 centenarians, according to the Census Bureau. By the year 2050, that number – with the aging of the baby-boom generation – is expected to reach more than 600,000. Meanwhile, an estimated 10,000 boomers each and every day – for the next decade – will turn 65.

How to reach 100? Centenarians point to social connections, exercise and spiritual activity as some of the keys to successful aging. Among surveyed centenarians, almost nine in 10 – fully 89% – say they communicate with a family member or friend every day; about two thirds (67%) pray, meditate or engage in some form of spiritual activity; and just over half (51%) say they exercise almost daily.

In each of these areas, baby boomers, as it turns out, match up fairly well. The same percentage of boomers as centenarians – 89% – say they’re in touch with friends or family members on a regular basis. Sixty percent of surveyed baby-boomers say spiritual activity is an important part of their lives, and almost six in 10 boomers (59%) exercise regularly.

Again, sleep and diet are the two areas where baby boomers come up short. Not surprisingly, the one area where boomers are more active is the workplace. Three-quarters (76%) of surveyed baby boomers say they work at a job or hobby almost every day; that compares with 16% of centenarians.

Finally, researchers turned to cultural affairs and asked centenarians and boomers to identify – from a list of 14 notable people (including President Obama, singer Paul McCartney and actors Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts) – their preferred dinner guest. The top choice among centenarians and boomers alike: the comedian Betty White.


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    • How is anyone to sleep eight hours with so much to keep you busy? We are constantly bombarded with things to do, places go, our jobs, family, friends, technology, and on and on. We are afraid of missing something if sleep too long  Thoughts from

    • How to reach 100? When I asked my 100+ G’ma “the secret,” she said, “I just keep waking up!” :) Died at 105 1/2. Was “with it,” engaged and only was off her feet for a couple of days right at the end. What a great lady and interesting life 1885-1991!

      Genes ARE powerful, but so is common sense and staying involved and engaged.

    • This is probably the most questionable study I’ve ever come across…it is misleading and borderline irresponsible.

      People who have lived a century grew up during a very different time than boomers. Many environmental factors may have conditioned them to regularly get 8 hours of sleep, eat regular meals, and be close with those in their community; this may not be why they lived to be a 100, but it may just mean they grew up during a time when these practices were more common, and so all centarians surveyed expressed the same lifestyle.

      In 70-80 years, when millenials start hitting 100, “studies” like this will start attributing our longevity to birth control pills, cell phone usage, and MTV.

      Complete and utter crap.

      Also, biological evidence and common sense tell us that our bodies need sleep, obviously if you don’t get enough of it your health will be impacted…why do they even conduct these studies??

    • That’s all fine and dandy, but having seen my father suffer from Alzheimer’s for years until his suffering was over (he finally succumbed last month), I question if I would want to live that long if (a) nothing I can do will prevent Alzheimer’s if I’m gonna get it or some other degenerative cognitive disease – which is almost inevitable if you live that long; therefore you have no quality of life, and (b) no matter how much money I can possibly save in my lifetime, the cost of advanced-age related healthcare will wipe me out in no time, thus becoming a huge financial burden to my family and/or society. There may be very well a “sweet spot” as to what is a good age to die, and over 100 is way past it.

    • Hard to sleep when you have a mountain of bills to pay and food and gas take 1/2 your pay if you have kids & a wife.

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  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.