People Who Live To 100 Have These Traits In Common, Scientists Say

“There is no one way to get to 90 or 100 ... [but] there are certain attributes that are very important.”

It may not be home to the Fountain of Youth, but the Cilento coast in Italy does boast a high prevalence of people over 90 years old. Now researchers have studied their personalities to see what psychological traits are common in the area's nonagenarians and centenarians.

The Cilento coast has gotten a lot of press in recent years as one of the world's "Blue Zones," i.e. places where residents enjoy better health and longer lives. Often-cited factors in the Cilento residents' longevity include the region's mild climate and the local "Mediterranean diet," per CNN. But whereas prior studies focused on the physical attributes of these Italians' lives, this new study — recently published in International Psychogeriatrics — focused on the psychological attributes.

"A vast majority of the published studies on the oldest old are quantitative, aimed at testing specific hypotheses, especially regarding biological underpinnings of extreme longevity," the researchers say in their paper. "However, qualitative research is also needed to allow these exceptionally old adults to communicate their experiences, personal views, and life strategies through their narratives."

Thus, the researchers analyzed 29 elderly villagers from Cilento, asked them to provide biographical information, and asked their younger family members to provide their impressions of them.

The younger family members said the elders were stubborn, controlling, and domineering. But the researchers found the subjects also possessed positivity, a strong work ethic, close bonds with their family, devout religiosity, a connection to the countryside, and an active lifestyle. They work in their homes and on their land, which gives them a sense of purpose. Perhaps most telling of all, however, was the subjects' preponderance of resilience and adaptability.

"These people have been through depressions, they've been through migrations, they've lost loved ones," Dr. Dilip Jeste, the senior author of the paper, 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."

(For example, here's a quote from a male subject who recently lost his wife: "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.")

"There is no one way to get to 90 or 100, and I don't think it requires a radical change in personality," Jeste added. "But this shows that there are certain attributes that are very important."

Additionally, though the 90-and-up subjects were in worse physical shape than family members aged 51 to 75, they displayed healthier mental well-being, higher self-confidence, and better decision-making skills. 

"Things like happiness and satisfaction with life went up, and levels of depression and stress went down," Jeste said. "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."

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