Annual Survey Finds More than Half of 100-Year-Olds are Exercising Nearly Every Day

June 07, 2012

A new survey finds the nation’s centenarians are just as active – physically and socially – as boomers half their age. More than half of the 100 centenarians polled in UnitedHealthcare’s seventh annual 100@100 survey say they exercise almost every day.

Nearly 45 percent cite walking as their favorite physical activity, yet nearly as many centenarians (40 percent) do exercises to strengthen their muscles. The survey finds that 100-year-olds also get creative with their workouts: 11 percent practice yoga, Tai Chi or another form of mind/body/spirit activity; 8 percent ride a bike regularly; 5 percent jog; and 2 percent engage in sports like baseball, basketball, soccer or tennis.

This year’s UnitedHealthcare 100@100 survey polled baby boomers in their early 50s in addition to centenarians to forecast the future of America’s rapidly expanding senior population and to determine how today’s oldest Americans can guide boomers’ strategies for successful aging. UnitedHealthcare serves nearly 12,000 of the estimated 72,000 centenarians nationwide through its portfolio of Medicare plans. The U.S. Census bureau projects the centenarian population will swell more than eight-fold to more than 600,000 by 2050.

If they hope to follow in the footsteps of the surveyed centenarians and make it to the century mark, boomers should remember to maintain their social circles and sense of humor. Centenarians are just as likely as boomers to talk with a friend or family member almost every day (89 percent each), and they are nearly as likely to attend a social event (26 percent of boomers vs. 24 percent of centenarians) and find something amusing enough to laugh or giggle (87 percent of boomers vs. 80 percent of centenarians) nearly every day.

“Some people have the perception that the oldest members of our society sit alone in a nursing home all day, but this year’s UnitedHealthcare 100@100 survey findings suggest that getting older doesn’t necessarily mean becoming less socially active,” said Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, the nation’s largest business dedicated to the health and well-being needs of seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries. “While genetics and maintaining a healthy body are important factors in living well into the 100s, this year’s survey participants have shown that staying socially engaged is just as important to healthy aging.”

So what can boomers look forward to as they progress toward their 100th birthday? A healthier diet and more rest – 100-year-olds are outperforming boomers on consistently eating nutritiously balanced meals (81 percent vs. 68 percent) and getting eight hours or more of sleep per night (71 percent vs. 38 percent).

Centenarians and Boomers Agree: Staying Fit Is Important, But It’s Not Easy
Both centenarians and boomers say it is more important to maintain physical health than mental and emotional health as they age, yet both groups agree it is also the most difficult to maintain. Centenarians and boomers rank physical health above mental health (40 percent vs. 32 percent of centenarians, and 50 percent vs. 24 percent of boomers) and emotional health (10 percent of centenarians, 9 percent of boomers) as the most important to maintain as they age.

When asked about activities they do to keep their minds healthy, centenarians and boomers appear to be on the same page. These activities include communicating regularly with friends, family and community members (88 percent of boomers, 82 percent of centenarians), reading (87 percent of boomers, 66 percent of centenarians), and exercising or staying physically active (74 percent of boomers, 65 percent of centenarians).

The survey also found that both groups believe that lifestyle choices have a greater impact on longevity than heredity, but the gap is much narrower among centenarians (centenarians: 43 percent lifestyle/36 percent heredity; boomers: 60 percent lifestyle/28 percent heredity).

Internet Access Doubles Among 100-Year-Olds, But They Say the Internet as We Know it Won’t Last
The number of centenarians with Internet access has nearly doubled since last year’s survey: up to 25 percent from 13 percent in 2011. But just because they’re adopting it in greater numbers does not mean they believe it will be around forever. Sixty-two percent of centenarians and 80 percent of boomers think the Internet will be obsolete in less than 25 years, replaced by a new and better system. About one-third of each group gives the Internet a 10-year lifespan (33 percent of boomers, 31 percent of centenarians).

A majority of connected centenarians (56 percent) say they have used the Internet to view or share photos with family and friends. Centenarians with Internet access have also used the Internet to send and receive email (48 percent) and to search for information (44 percent), and they are almost as likely as boomers to have used an online dating service (6 percent of boomers vs. 4 percent of centenarians).

Nearly one in 10 centenarians (9 percent) has watched a video on YouTube. Even more have listened to music on an iPod or similar device or watched a TV program on a digital video recorder (12 percent each).

When it comes to social media, a majority of boomers have used Facebook (58 percent), but only 11 percent have used Twitter. Centenarians’ social lives are lived mostly offline: only 3 percent have used Facebook, and only one of the 100 centenarians surveyed has used Twitter.

Betty White and “Gone with the Wind”: Popular As Ever
Given the opportunity to invite a list of 14 famous people to a family dinner, centenarians’ most popular pick for the third year in a row was Betty White (65 percent), followed by a tie between George W. Bush and President Barack Obama (56 percent each). Politicians, however, did not crack the top three invitees for boomers, who chose Betty White (78 percent), Tom Hanks (75 percent) and Paul McCartney (70 percent).

If dinner were to be followed by a movie, half of centenarians would pick “Gone with the Wind,” calling it the greatest movie from the past 100 years. Boomers’ top pick is a movie that is only seven years newer: “It’s a Wonderful Life” (33 percent).

2012 Elections: Strong Turnout Expected From 100-Year-Olds and Boomers Alike
Almost three-quarters of the 100 centenarians polled said they are heading to the polls in November. Both centenarians and boomers are fairly well aligned regarding their priorities for selecting the next president. Deemed most important are good guardianship of the economy (85 percent of boomers, 76 percent of centenarians), protecting the safety and security of the country by using the military (80 percent of boomers, 77 percent of centenarians), strong moral character (73 percent for both groups), and improving health care and education (72 percent of boomers, 70 percent of centenarians).

Some of the top issues driving the political dialogue are also top of mind for centenarians. More than a quarter (28 percent) say developments in green energy will have the greatest impact in the next 100 years, and nearly half (49 percent) do not think the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security should be raised, though the majority (54 percent) believes it will be.

For complete survey results, visit the Newsroom on

About the Survey

GfK Roper interviewed 100 centenarians (individuals turning 100 this year or older) and 300 boomers (ages 50-55) by telephone from April 16 to May 2, 2012. Centenarians were interviewed using a list of pre-identified respondents in that age category. Boomers were selected by a random dialing sample derived from probability methods, with pre-identified age ranges. The centenarian sample is not weighted, as population targets for this group are not available. The sample of boomers was weighted to reflect their demographics in the U.S. population for this age range. The margin of sampling error for boomers is plus or minus 6.7 percentage points for a result of 50 percent at the 95 percent confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of boomers. The margin of sampling error is higher and varies for results based on subsamples.

About UnitedHealthcare

UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 650,000 physicians and care professionals and 5,000 hospitals nationwide. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 38 million people and is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company.


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