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The Longevity Personality

Woman content in nature

Zoonar RF/Thinkstock

Stubborn, positive personality types likely to live longer, new study says.

I love reading about the oldest people in the world, because the details are so fascinating, and because the people themselves are living links to history. For example, Italy’s Emma Morano was 117 when she passed—and with her, so went a connection to an era. She was the last person born in the 19th century. What was her secret to a long life? Morano was big on eating raw eggs, though she also gave credit to good genes for her extraordinary lifespan. Japan’s Misao Okawa also made it to 117, enjoying a daily cup of coffee and ramen as part of her diet. Germany’s Gustav Gerneth climbs steep entrance steps to his home, and he’s 112. There have been many studies on “supercentenarians,” the majority of whom are women, and older seniors, ages 90 and up, but little research has focused on their personalities. What traits make people more likely to live so long? A new study examined that, via interviews.

The study, published in International Psychogeriatrics, found that people ages 90 to 101 were generally in worse physical, but better mental, health than members of their family aged 51 to 75—the mere spring chickens. The study was conducted among 29 elderly people from nine regions in rural Southern Italy, and the group’s passion for their land seemed to be a unifying theme, giving them a sense of purpose. “They think, “This is my life and I'm not going to give it up,’” wrote Anna Scelzo, first author of the study with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in Chiavarese, Italy. “We also found that this group tended to be domineering, stubborn and needed a sense of control, which can be a desirable trait as they are true to their convictions and care less about what others think,” said Scelzo. “This tendency to control the environment suggests notable grit that is balanced by a need to adapt to changing circumstances.”

What else helps people thrive, and not just live?

  • Embracing change
  • Positive thinking
  • Staying active

We certainly won’t all make it to 117, or even 90, but seeing what makes a life well-lived is good inspiration, at any age.

About the Author

Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is based in Savannah. She’s been a contributor to the magazine for many years, and she loves sharing ways to build a healthy, mindful, and sustainable lifestyle.

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