Jan
11
2020

Centenarians Are Positive Thinkers

Dr. Thierry Hertoghe gave a presentation in Las Vegas on Dec. 14, 2019 where he stated that centenarians are positive thinkers. This was at the 27th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine. The topic of his talk was “Positive Psychological Attitudes of Centenarians “.

Dr. Hertoghe is an endocrinologist in Belgium. Dr. Hertoghe took an interest in people above the age of 100. He felt that these people are special people with a very optimistic outlook on life. He went on to study the literature about this topic in detail and this is what this talk was about.

The oldest man, Gustav Gerneth died at 114 years 7 days in Germany (Oct. 22, 2019). The oldest female is Japan’s Kane Tanaka at 117 years (birthday Jan. 2,1903).

So, what is their secret to age that well? Here is what Dr. Hertoghe found out about centenarians.

Attributes of centenarians

Centenarians have a will to live. They adapt to changes; they have a sense of purpose, and they stay active. Other psychological features show that they have is a positive mood and they avoid stress and anxiety. Another important attribute is self-determination. They are very sociable, have close family ties, love their relationships and often have a strong religious faith. There is a connection between their basic values and beliefs and their spirituality. Centenarians insist on their freedom and they have a feeling of youth. Centenarians have their own centenarian spirit where they can feel young or old.

In the following I am reviewing the details that Dr. Hertoghe gave. He covered 13 subtopics regarding causes of longevity in centenarians.

The will to live

It takes courage to grow old and all centenarians have this. They say “Life is worth living”. They have a certain resiliency in a world that has an obsession about youth. Despite negative experiences they had to overcome they do not give up and they enjoy life as much as they can. A Finnish study examined 400 individuals aged 75-90 and followed them for 10 years. Group 1 who wished to live less than 5 years had a mortality rate of 68%. Group 2 wished to live for 5-10 years. They had a mortality of 45.6%. The last group, group 3 wanted to live more than 10 years. Their mortality was only 33.3%. Be careful what you wish for!

Adaptability

This describes the capacity to overcome adversity and your ability to adjust. In a study of 7400 Chinese centenarians’ resilience to changes was measured with psychometric psychological tests. The majority of subjects did not qualify for being resilient. Only 9% of male centenarians and 6% of female centenarians had the resiliency where they qualified for high adaptability. This high resilience group was associated with 2%-4% lower mortality risk. They had a 36%-55% higher odds of not developing cognitive impairment and they rated themselves as being in good health and having a “good life” satisfaction. These resilient centenarians had a 7%-12% higher probability of not developing a physical disability. Short-term health decline was not associated with these high resilient centenarians.

A sense of purpose

Centenarians can still contribute to society. Tao Porchon-Lynch turned 100 in 2014. She opened the Westchester Institute of Yoga in 1982 and is still practicing yoga. There are many ways how centenarians express a sense of purpose. Males often work in their old job, but only part-time. They may help with babysitting the great-grandchildren. Others do volunteer service. Still others may enrol in a university and study what they always wanted to do.

In a 2016 publication people older than 65 were followed between February 2011 and November 2014. Those who had neither hobbies or a purpose in life did not fare well. They had a risk of mortality of 2.08-fold compared to those with a sense of purpose. Dr. Hertoghe provided 9 more references regarding studies that showed the same finding.

Remaining active

If a centenarian remains active and moves about several hours per day, the body functions are preserved. Anna Mary Robertson Moses who was known by her nickname “Grandma Moses” took up painting at age 78. She died at age 101 in 1961.

Positive emotions

One study of 54 Ashkenazi Jewish older adults (aged 98-107) compared those with positive emotions to those with negative emotions. The researchers noted that a positive attitude about life allowed centenarians to live longer.

A study involving 2282 Mexican Americans aged 65 to 99 showed that positive affect scores were a predictor for the following. Subjects with a high positive affect had a 52% lower probability of becoming physically disabled. They were 36% less likely than the negative controls to lose their walking speed. In addition, they were 47% less likely to die during the two-year observation period than their negative controls.

Nurses’ Health Study and Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study

Two studies, the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and men from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study measured optimism. The researchers found that those with the highest optimism scores had a 1.5-fold higher probability in women and 1.7-fold in men to survive to age 85. This was compared to a control with the lowest optimism scores. Dr. Hertoghe provided 19 more studies that showed the effects of positive emotions regarding long term survival. For brevity reasons I will not dwell on them here.

Better stress management

Centenarians avoid excessive stress and attempt to relax instead.  It has been known since the ground-breaking work by Dr. Hans Selye that stress undermines longevity. By using relaxation methods intermittently one can reduce the stress response, which normalizes the excessive ACTH production in the pituitary gland and the concomitant cortisol production in the adrenal glands.

Self-determination

Long-living people have a strong willpower and are determined to succeed with what they want. They have a sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Centenarians have concerns for others, but they also have a healthy regard for themselves. Dr. Hertoghe provided 4 references to illustrate this, but for brevity reasons I will omit them here.

Social involvement

Centenarians have an active social life. They are involved with their family, with the community including often church communities. Sociability has a 2.3-fold higher probability of survival (mortality reduced by 57% due to sociability).

Practicing religion

Those who are centenarians were often raised in religious families. They developed a strong faith in God. A common theme among centenarians is that they trust in God and believe it is His will that they lived a long life. They also believe that eventually God will call them “home” when He is ready for them. Centenarians who practice religion have a strong belief in an afterlife, which sustains them to live and they accept death when it comes. In a 2017 study 18,370 participants aged 50 and older were interviewed in 2004 and followed for all-cause mortality to 2014. Regular church attendants had a mortality that was 40% less than those who did not attend. Dr. Hertoghe provided 20 more references that showed similar findings.

Spiritual involvement

Attributes of spiritual involvement are high ethical principles, resilience and hope that everything will turn out OK. Dr. Hertoghe cited from 7 different references that the average effect of spirituality leads to a 2- to 4-fold greater survival over 17 years.

A feeling of freedom

This makes centenarians less concerned what other people think of them. Dr. Helen Langner, a psychiatrist, still does a part-time psychiatric practice at age 100. She says about a feeling of freedom: “In old age, there’s often a sense of personal freedom because there is less pressure of a career or the responsibilities of work or raising a

family. It can and should be a time for people to do the things that are important to them and a time to enjoy. “

A feeling of youth

Many centenarians are young at heart. Even though they may look physically old, they don’t feel old in their heart.

What is the centenarian spirit?

When people are older than 100 years, they often have a mix of humor and eccentricity; they express emotions openly and they are happy people. They accept the death of spouses, siblings and significant others.

By the way, humor has a strong predictive survivor value. In a study that researchers conducted over 15 years, there was a clear positive effect of humor regarding mortality. A sense of humor reduced the all-cause mortality by 48%. In women humor lowered mortality regarding cardiovascular disease by 73%. Humor reduced death due to infections in women by 83%. Men had a non-significant reduction of all‐cause mortality by 12% and a significant lower mortality due to infections by 74%.

Dr. Hertoghe cited three more publications that showed the power of humor in reducing disease and disability.

Jeanne Louise Calment 

As an illustration for humor Dr. Hertoghe introduced Jeanne Louise Calment to the audience. She was a French woman who broke the record for being the oldest centenarian in the world.  Jeanne Calment died on August 4, 1997 at the age of 122 years and 164 days. She was asked by someone: “Why do you live so long?” She replied: “Because God has forgotten me…” Next question: “How do you consider your future life?” “Very, very short”. Last question:” What do you think of your wrinkles?” “The only wrinkle I have is the one I am sitting on”.

Centenarians Are Positive Thinkers

Centenarians Are Positive Thinkers

Conclusion

Centenarians have certain attributes that make them more resilient than others who die earlier. They have a will to live, an ability to adjust, a sense of purpose and they stay active. Their psychological make-up is such that they have a positive mood and they tend to avoid stress and anxiety. They have a sense of self-determination. They are very sociable, have close family ties, love relationships with people around them, and often have a strong religious faith. Their spirituality has a connection to their basic values and beliefs. Centenarians insist on their freedom and they have a feeling of youth. They have their own centenarian spirit where they can feel young or old. But they also have humor as documented above with the oldest woman that lived. She was 122 years and 164 days old when she died in 1997.

About Ray Schilling

Dr. Ray Schilling born in Tübingen, Germany and Graduated from Eberhard-Karls-University Medical School, Tuebingen in 1971. Once Post-doctoral cancer research position holder at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, is now a member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M).

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