Redefining longevity: the new centenarian spirit
The US centenarian population is doubling every decade – and they're redefining aging and longevity.
(Page 3 of 4)
"I wanted to help dispel some of the stereotypes people have of old age as a time of disinterest and decrepitude," she says. "I thought that by showing some positive models we could influence the other issues – the stereotypes and the ageism, and give people some positives to counter the prevailing view."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The "centenarian spirit," says Adler, is a group of traits associated with exceptionally long, active lives, including courage and a sense of humor. But it's attitude, too: "It's the remarkable ability to renegotiate life at every turn, to accept the losses that come with aging, and not let it stop them.... It's not just how long you live, but how well."
Medical researchers do see a connection between attitude and the ability to live an active life, says Mr. Martin: "It's easier to see that than to document it. Most of the research looks at health issues and longevity, but what gets people there often works very differently. I think through our studies on personality and engagement and mental health [there is] some good evidence that ... staying active and being involved is a major contributor to longevity.... They may be 100, but they're not finished yet."
For example, in a study of centenarians published last year in the journal Adult Development, Martin and his coauthors found that balancing a checkbook correlates with a better mental state. "It seems like a simple task for us," he says, "but as a lifelong engagement task ... it's a good indicator – not saying, 'Well, I'll let other people do that,' but saying, "It's important to me to know what my balance is.' "
Social engagement is important, he adds, but so are the tasks that go along with it: "[I]f you give a public speech or presentation, or volunteer, it's more than just standing in front of people and talking – you have to prepare for it. You have to get up in the morning and get yourself ready … you draw from a lot of different resources that keep challenging you."
• • •
If ther's a spokesperson for the social centenarian, it's Elsa Hoffmann. At 102, her schedule is booked solid. After her regular Monday lunch and card game, and before a movie with her Women's League, Ms. Hoffmann takes time to discuss the past 100 years over the phone. Her version of slowing down in the past decade is to limit her travel to places near her Florida home – South America, for example. And, she's contemplating going to Russia this spring.
Hoffmann spent decades running a resort with her husband – she handled the entertainment. "From childhood, I was always one to organize parties and games and things like that," she says. "When I have days off, I catch up on my bills and stocks…. I don't think there's anything I say I can't go to or don't want to do."
Her granddaughter, Sharon Textor-Black, wrote a book about Hoffmann's strategy for active aging, "Elsa's Own Blue Zone."
"One of the things I think is helpful for other people to know [is that] she really enjoys being around other people," Ms. Textor-Black says. "I think that's important. As some people get older, they let themselves get housebound, but – whether through church or clubs or even the Internet – there are just so many ways to connect with other people."