Survey contrasts attitudes of centenarians vs. baby boomers

Only six percent of centenarians say they wished they had more money. This is indeed surprising because most people don’t expect to live to age 100, so many have run short of retirement savings before reaching this advanced age.

This small proportion who indicated they were okay financially was among the findings in a survey conducted last spring by the GFK Roper firm for UnitedHealthcare insurance company.

Having a longer life doesn’t mean having a longer list of regrets either. When asked what these centenarians would have done differently if they knew they would live to 100, fifty percent of centenarians polled in this, the UnitedHealthcare’s eighth annual “100@100” survey, answered, “not a thing.”

Also polled were baby boomers ages 60 to 65. They aren’t quite as content as average centenarians. Only about 1 in 3 (29 percent) said the same thing about their lives so far, while more than a quarter (26 percent) say they wish they had saved more money. Boomers are also more than twice as likely as centenarians to wish they had taken more risks in their lives (12 percent vs. 5 percent).

This year’s survey of baby boomers in addition to centenarians was to examine how the attitudes and lifestyles of Americans entering their retirement years compared to those who have held the title of “senior citizen” for 35 years or more.

UnitedHealthcare serves more than 12,800 of the estimated 53,000 centenarians nationwide through its portfolio of Medicare plans. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the centenarian population will swell to more than 600,000 by 2050.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American today lives to be about 80. In view of the “additional years” centenarians have lived compared to others in their generation, the most senior of seniors were asked what could have made these extra years of their lives even better.

One-third (33 percent) said “nothing.” It’s as good as they could have hoped for. The same number (33 percent) wished they had had more time with their spouse or other loved ones. Thirteen percent wished for better health.

Centenarians are most nostalgic about young adulthood (45 percent), despite the challenges many people associate with this time of life, such as balancing the demands of a career and family. As they reached their 100th year they said their 100th birthday was the second most fondly remembered time in centenarians’ lives (12 percent).

“The centenarians in this year’s survey show that maintaining a positive outlook isn’t all about focusing on what the future holds,” said Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of United Healthcare Medicare and Retirement. “Reflecting fondly and confidently on the choices they have made throughout their lives helps the longest living Americans maintain a sense of satisfaction and well-being that’s vital to healthy aging.”

When it comes to expectations for one’s own lifetime, nearly 3 in 10 (29 percent), centenarians expected to live to be 100. Only about one in five (21 percent) boomers expects to reach the same milestone.

Almost all centenarians (98 percent) say that keeping their mind active is a secret to healthy aging, and 100 percent of 60 to 65-year-olds agree. Nearly the same majority (96 percent of centenarians and 98 percent of baby boomers) say that staying mobile and exercising is important. They also agree that physical health is more difficult to maintain as they age, compared with mental health, emotional/spiritual health, social connections, and independence. Only 1 percent of boomers expects to reach the same 100-year milestone.

Despite the difficulty of maintaining their physical health, many centenarians are staying active. More than half say they walk or bike weekly. More than one-third say they do strength-training exercises at least once a week One in five centenarians say they do a cardio workout indoors one or more times a week.

While nearly all centenarians agree that physical activity is essential to healthy aging, only about one-third say that maintaining one’s sex life is important. Boomers, on the other hand, think differently. Four in five baby boomers (80 percent) agree that maintaining one’s sex life is important for healthy aging.

Centenarians are more likely than boomers to eat nutritiously balanced meals regularly (84 percent) vs. (77 percent), get more than eight hours sleep and attend a social event every day.

The generational differences continue when it comes to certain aspects of emotional health. Retirement age boomers were more likely than centenarians to say it’s very important to continue to look toward each day and to maintain a sense of purpose (79 percent vs. 57 percent).

The secrets of a lasting marriage depend on whom you ask. Centenarians put a greater premium on “sameness” than do the boomers. More than 3 in 10 centenarians say it is very important to share the same political views as your partner. Less than one in five retirement-aged boomers agree.

Nearly twice as many centenarians than boomers say it’s very important to have the same hobbies as your spouse. The same patterns hold true for religion.

Boomers are more apt to toss aside tradition when it comes to marriage. Fewer than half say it’s quite important to maintain the traditional roles of husband and wife.

Both generations agree that family and friends have the biggest impact on their lives and provide the most support. More than one in three centenarians report maintaining a friendship for more than 75 years.

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