Everyone who manages to reach the ripe old age of 100 seems to have a different “secret” to their longevity, but let’s face it, the real “secret” is usually a healthy lifestyle and good genes.
According to a new study, however, there’s more to becoming a centenarian than just eating well, staying active and being genetically blessed.
Researchers from Italy, Switzerland and the US analysed the mental and physical health of elderly residents of villages in Italy’s Cilento region, an area known for its usually high number of people older than 90.
The participants were given questionnaires and interviews on topics like tradition, culture, grief and loss, traumatic events, migration and beliefs while their younger family members were asked what they believed to be their older relatives’ strongest personality traits.
The younger relatives described their older family members as controlling and stubborn, but researchers wrote the nonagenarians and centenarians also displayed incredible resilience and willingness to adapt to change.
For example, one man, who recently lost his wife, told interviewers, “Thanks to my sons, I am now recovering and feeling much better … I have fought all my life and I am always ready for changes. I think changes bring life and give chances to grow.”
Dr Dilip Jeste from the UC San Diego School of Medicine, the study’s senior author, said that somehow, the elderly residents of these Italian villages had somehow found a way to reconcile these conflicting traits.
“These people have been through depressions, they’ve been through migrations, they’ve lost loved ones,” he told TIME. “In order to flourish, they have to be able to accept and recover from the things they can’t change, but also fight for the things they can.”
The oldest residents also shared a number of other interests and values in addition to the traits of stubbornness, resilience and adaptability – they had an overall positive outlook on life, a strong work ethic, strong familial bonds and an interest in religion.
Living in the countryside, most of the participants were still actively tending to their homes and their land, which researchers believe gives them a sense of purpose.
Perhaps surprisingly, although many of the elderly participants had experienced deteriorated physical health, their mental health remained higher – higher, in fact, than their family members between the ages of 51 and 57.
“Things like happiness and satisfaction with life went up, and levels of depression and stress went down,” Jeste explained. “It’s the opposite of what we might expect when we think about aging, but it shows that getting older is not all gloom and doom.
While there isn’t one sure-fire way to reach triple digits, Jeste says his research “shows that there are certain attributes that are very important, including resilience, strong social support and engagement, and having confidence in yourself.”
Tell us in the comments below, do you think you share any of these personality traits?