| March 18, 2013

Sometimes spending a weekend with the relatives feels like it ages you 100 years. But if you really want to live to be 100, experts say it pays to have strong family ties. It doesn't hurt to embrace spirituality and adapt with the changing times, either.

“Social interaction with families and friends is key," explains Lynn Peters Adler, JD. As the founder of the National Centenarian Awareness Project, Adler stresses the importance of keeping the mind active as you age. One of the best ways to do that is to keep up social interaction with the people close to you.

"We know that people in integrated environments have improved health measures compared to their cohorts," says Eric Tangalos, M.D., a geriatrician and internist at the Mayo Clinic. "They want that social interaction," he explains. "Being in a social environment itself helps their health."

Many of those in the 100-plus club are lucky in that "they are likely to have a huge number of generations" in their family tree, says Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., gerontologist and author of "30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans."

"They tend to be very invested in their nieces, nephews and grand nephews’ lives.”

READ: The Five Friends You Need to Have (Even If You're Not Married)

On the flip side, "It is no surprise, then, that many treat living centenarians as living treasure," Pillemer says.

“We find there is a huge repository of family tradition and history found in this one person," Pillemer adds. "I interviewed a 102-year-old not too long ago. Her grandfather fought in the Civil War. She has living memory of talking to people who lived during that war. The oldest person her grandfather knew was someone who had fought in the Revolutionary War.”

While those who have lived to be 100 have no doubt witnessed major moments in history, many have also easily adapted to the changing times.

"Yes, centenarians have seen huge improvements over their lifetime from the flapper period to African Americans gaining equal rights to the first man landing on the moon, but they just see these changes as a part of life," Adler says. "They learned to deal with the changes as they came."

Of course, many of these changes came with improving technology, and centenarians have been enthusiastic about embracing that.

“There is a preconceived perception that older people live in the past,” Adler says. “Twenty to twenty-five percent of the 500 active centenarians surveyed used computers or emailed,” she explains, mentioning one specific man who received a computer for his 105th birthday and promptly hired someone to teach him how to use it.

And while some centenarians are confidently looking to the future, few fear death.

“There’s a lot of research showing that there is a negative correlation between the fear of dying and age," says Pillemer. “This is one thing I absolutely found to be true.  Centenarians have certainly learned to regulate their emotions and whatever fear they have about dying."

Adler explains, “Centenarians accept death. They expect it. Eight out of 10 centenarians are women, and some of these women have been widowed longer than they have been married. But, centenarians accept it and go on with their lives. They see it as God’s will.” 

READ: Is Heaven Real? A Neurosurgeon Shares His Story About the Afterlife

That kind of spirituality plays an important role in the lives of those who made it to 100.

“Centenarians have very strong religious or spiritual beliefs,” says Adler.  “Whether their strong religious, spiritual beliefs have helped them live longer than others I can’t say, but I do know that centenarians feel very strongly about it.” 

“Most centenarians enjoy being part of a religious community, and they continue to remain very active with their churches,” Pillemer tells us. “Of all the hundred year olds I have interviewed over the years, very few have said that religion or spirituality is not important to them.  In fact, the vast majority draws on spirituality and believes that it is what has gotten them to where they are now.