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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Personality Secrets to a Long Life

Researchers Find Centenarians Optimistic, Extroverted, Positive; Some Became That Way Later in Life
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 30, 2012 -- A new study may offer some tips to help you stick around for your 100th birthday.

Try to be optimistic, easygoing, sociable, and conscientious. Don't bottle up your feelings. Suppress the urge to talk ill of others, the new research suggests.

That combination of personality factors seems to describe the secrets of living to 100, says researcher Nir Barzilai, PhD, director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y.

Those findings are among the latest from Barzilai's ongoing Longevity Genes Project.

While Barzilai found that those personality factors offer more clues to longevity, he has a caveat: "Still the No. 1 predictor for being a centenarian is if you have parents who are centenarians."

Even so, he is trying to answer the question: "Are the genes that are longevity genes also personality genes?"

The new research is published in the journal Aging.

Longevity & Personality Study

Living to 100 years old is still rare. About 53,000 people in the U.S., or 0.2% of the population, are 100-plus. However, the number of centenarians has been increasing about 8% a year, Barzilai says.

And that has captured his research interest and that of others around the country. "There are several groups doing studies on centenarians," Barzilai says.

Some research has already suggested that centenarians share particular personality traits.

Among them: being extroverted and agreeable.

Barzilai decided to look more closely at genetically based personality characteristics.

He recruited 243 centenarians. He gave them and their family members questionnaires that asked if they had characteristics such as optimism.

He gauged how easygoing they were, how outgoing, and how much they laughed. He looked at how freely they expressed emotions.

He looked at characteristics like conscientiousness, such as a tendency to be self-disciplined.

He looked at neuroticism, a tendency to express negatives emotions such as anxiety, anger, or guilt.

He compared their scores to averages found in the U.S. population.

He also did a validation study to reduce the impact of any mental impairment. Nineteen centenarians and 26 of their children participated in the validation study.

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