Age truly is just a number, according a survey of centenarians and Baby Boomers, both of whom say they feel younger than their actual ages.
Centenarians, on average, say they feel 83 years young, while the 65-year-old Boomers surveyed, on average, feel a full decade younger at 55, according to a new survey by insurance company UnitedHealthcare.
When asked how they feel about living to 100, centenarians' top answers were "blessed" (36%), "happy" (31%) and "surprised" (12%). Not one selected feeling sad or burdened; just 3% said they felt lonely. And more than half (53%) live independently, without the support of a caregiver to help them with their daily activities.
In other surveys, the ability to maintain independence is often cited by Baby Boomers as a key goal as they age, says Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement. It's "great news that one of the things that we care about the most is absolutely achievable, and centenarians are proving that."
Now in its ninth year, UnitedHealthcare's 100@100 survey began adding a companion survey of Baby Boomers in 2012 to examine how the attitudes and lifestyles of Americans entering their retirement years compare with those who hit that same age 35 years ago, Randall says. A total of 104 centenarians and 302 Baby Boomers are included in this year's survey.
Currently, there are approximately 55,000 centenarians in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is projected to grow to 442,000 in 2050.
The finding that many centenarians continue to feel positive in spite of increasing physical limitations and personal losses is in line with aging research conducted by Fordham University psychologist Daniela Jopp, who was not involved with the new study.
"One of the big surprises that we find in gerontology is that people with advanced age have a lot of loss experiences: their health, their relatives, their friends, their partners, and so forth. But it's not the case that they are particularly depressed," Jopp says.
"We younger people think about all of those instances (and) think we would no longer want to live, whereas a centenarian says, 'I may not be able to walk as well as I did before, but I'm still alive and that's a very good thing.' "
Among other findings from this year's survey:
•Maintaining physical health (20%) and independence (18%) have been the most difficult aspects of aging, according to the centenarians. Twice as many Baby Boomers (42%) cite physical health as the biggest challenge. Only 5% mention independence.
•The keys to healthy aging, centenarians say, are staying close to friends and family (91%), maintaining a sense of independence (88%) and eating right (86%). Boomers, likewise, cite maintaining a sense of independence (87%), tied with laughter/having a sense of humor (87%) and staying close to friends and family.
•A majority of both groups (56% of centenarians; 74% of Boomers) report walking or hiking at least once a week; about one-third (32% of centenarians; 37% of Boomers) say they do strength-training exercises every week.
•Actress Betty White, long the top choice on centenarians' list of most-sought-after dinner guests, gets bumped to second place this year in favor of President Obama (66% to 71%). The actress still tops the list for Baby Boomers.