Half of Centenarians Have No Regrets

May 14, 2013 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - When asked what they would have done differently if they knew they would live to 100, 50% of centenarians polled by UnitedHealthcare answered, “not a thing.”

By contrast, UnitedHealthcare’s eighth annual 100@100 survey found Baby Boomers ages 60 to 65 aren’t quite so content. Only about one in three (29%) say the same thing about their lives so far, while more than one-quarter (26%) 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% vs. 5%).   

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 peers of their generation, the most senior seniors were asked what could have made these extra years of their lives even better. One-third (33%) said “nothing,” it’s as good as they could have hoped for. An equal number (33%) wished for more time with their spouse or loved ones. Thirteen percent wished for better health. Only 6% said they wish they had more money.   

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

Nearly three in 10 (29%) centenarians said they expected to live to 100. Twenty-one percent of Boomers expects to reach the same milestone.

Almost all centenarians (98%) say keeping their mind active is a secret to healthy aging, and 100% of 60- to 65-year-olds agree. Nearly the same majority (96% of centenarians and 98% of Baby Boomers) say 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.   

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

The survey also found centenarians are more likely than retirement-aged Boomers to eat nutritiously balanced meals regularly (86% vs. 77%), get more than eight hours of sleep each night (66% vs. 54%), and attend a social event every day (37% vs. 28%).   

Retirement-age Boomers were more likely than centenarians to say it’s very important to continue to look forward to each day (88% vs. 72%) and to maintain a sense of purpose (79% vs. 57%).

Both generations agree that friends and family have the biggest impact on their lives and provide them with the most support. Nearly everyone surveyed (97% of centenarians and 99% of Boomers) said staying close to friends and family is a secret to healthy aging. More than one in three centenarians reports maintaining a friendship for more than 75 years.   

Nearly one in three centenarians (and close to half of Boomers) surveyed thinks the United States has seen its best days and is on a decline. Additionally, more than eight in 10 Boomers and six in 10 centenarians agree with the statement that our society is deteriorating in terms of how we treat one another. Only about one in five respondents from both groups is more optimistic, saying the United States is continuing to improve and that its best days are yet to come.  

When asked to pick from a list, both centenarians and 60- to 65-year-olds chose “respect for elders” and “courtesy” as the top two values they would most like to impart to individuals in their teens to early 30s. Less than one in 10 from either group cited "respect for privacy" as a top concern.   

More survey results can be found here.