FROM LIVE BETTER AMERICA

Live Long And Prosper: 8 Secrets Centenarians Know About How To Live To 100

Forget the generations of baby boomers, Gen Xers and Ys, busters and tweens. One of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population is the group whose members top 100 years old, keeping Willard Scott very, very busy with birthday wishes. In fact, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections, 1 million Americans will be 100 years old or older by 2040.

Do you have a shot at earning a triple-figure b-day salutation? With some lifestyle changes and tips from researchers who have been studying the centenarians, you may, indeed, help extend your longevity.

And there's even better news: "Older doesn't mean sicker," says Thomas Perls, MD, founder and director of the New England Centenarian Study, which was created in 1994 in conjunction with Boston University and has conducted extensive research on those older than 100. "The vast majority of individuals we study live independently for most of their lives, and we have found that the older you live usually means the healthier you've lived."

Dr. Perls and other researchers have connected activities and factors that may tack on additional months and years and those that'll whittle down your time.

"We have a great deal of power over our longevity, and the decisions we make every day contribute to our life expectancy," says Dr. Perls. "I know that after working with centenarians, I have changed my habits. I lost 30 pounds and think twice before grabbing a high-fat snack at the checkout counter."

To better your chances of joining the 100 club, check out what researchers have learned about these life extenders and enders.

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  • Life Extender: No Worries

    "Part of living to 100 seems to require having the right personality," Dr. Perls says. "It appears that centenarians manage their stress, rather than letting it manage them. They don't internalize stress, which has been linked to heart disease and high blood pressure, cancer and Alzheimer's. Of the centenarians we have tested, many scored low in neuroticism, meaning that they tend not to dwell on things."

  • Life Extender: Veggie Diet

    According to a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, diets that incorporate fats and proteins from vegetables instead of meat may help to lower the risk of heart disease.

  • Life Extender: Pearly Whites

    Well-flossed teeth may mean a longer life. Studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found a link between dental problems, such as chronic inflammation of the gums and gingivitis, and heart disease.

  • Life Extender: Genetics

    Not much you can do about this, but Dr. Perls's research has found that those who have a relative who made it past 100 are more likely to pass the century mark as well. "Longevity runs strongly in families," he says. "If you're generally healthy, you'll live to about 88 years, and to go those additional 12, you'll probably need at least one family member who has reached the 90s."

  • Life Ender: Smoking

    "If you smoke, you may automatically take 15 years off your life," Dr. Perls says. "Few centenarians smoke, and even exposure to secondhand smoke is a concern." However, according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health, if you were a smoker but quit, you'll likely outlive those who continue to puff away.

  • Life Ender: Isolation

    "Being close to family members appears to provide an important social safety net," Dr. Perls says. "Centenarians tend to be gregarious and funny. Rarely do they come across as grumpy loners."

  • Life Ender: Spare Tires

    "Obesity is quite rare among centenarians, especially in men," Dr. Perls says. "Many believe in moderation in many aspects of their lives."

  • Life Ender: Sleepless Nights

    Are you snoozing fewer than six hours a night? If so, you're risking membership in the 100 Club. Studies have linked heart disease to a lack of shut-eye — particularly with fewer than those six hours.

So, want to know whether you can reach 100? Visit www.livingto100.com, respond to 40 questions about health, diet, lifestyle and family history, and the online calculator will crunch the answers into an approximate life expectancy.

According to Dr. Perls, who developed the calculator in conjunction with his book "Living to 100: Lessons in Living to Your Maximum Potential at Any Age," most people score in the high 80s.

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