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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Genetics may be the best predictor of longevity, but lifestyle choices, including staying connected with family and friends, are key components to reaching the age of 100, according to a new poll released on Wednesday.
More than 80 percent of 100 men and women who have already hit the milestone said being socially active had helped them get there, and a similar number of baby boomers believe it will help them reach their 100th birthday.
"Scientifically we know that the formula, the best predictor, for how long someone will live has traditionally been how long their immediate relatives have lived, so we know genetics is a strong factor," said Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare, which conducted the survey.
"But we are seeing more and more that lifestyle choices -- physical exercise, diet, staying engaged, having a social purpose -- are becoming a stronger and stronger influence," she said in an interview.
Like their children and grandchildren, centenarians have turned to the Internet to stay connected.
About a quarter of 100-year-olds questioned in the telephone survey said they had access to the Web, double the number just a year ago. Of those, more than half use the Internet to view and share photos, and nearly as many send and receive email and search the Internet for information.
Centenarians were also almost as likely as baby boomers to have used an online dating service -- 6 percent of boomers, compared with 4 percent of the oldest generation.
"They are all realizing that the keys to longevity are around mental, physical and emotion health," said Randall.
About 10 percent of the 100-year-olds have watched a video on YouTube or listened to music on an iPod, according to the poll, but only 3 percent have used Facebook, and just one of them has used Twitter.
Centenarians, along with the over-65 group, are the fastest-growing segment of the population. More than 10,000 boomers will turn 65 every day for the next decade, according to U.S. Census Bureau predictions.
Many of the boomers will help to swell the number of U.S. centenarians to 600,000 by 2050 from an estimated 72,000 at the end of 2010, the Census Bureau said.
Boomers aiming to reach 100 could take some cues from the older generation, who know the importance of exercise and a healthy diet, along with a strong, active mind.
For nearly half of 100-year-olds, walking is their favorite physical activity, but 11 percent practice yoga, Tai Chi or something similar. Eight percent ride a bicycle regularly, 5 percent still jog, and 2 percent play a sport such as tennis.
"We are seeing more of a diversification in the types of exercise people are getting," said Randall.
Centenarians can also teach their younger counterparts a thing or two about staying healthy. More than 80 percent of the oldest generation say they eat nutritiously balanced meals, compared with 68 percent of boomers.
Seventy one percent of 100-year-olds sleep eight hours or more each night, but only 38 percent of boomers are getting that much rest.
Both groups say they are politically active, and nearly three-quarters of centenarians said they would be heading to the polls in November to vote in the presidential election.
Boomers and centenarians also agree on the importance of lifestyle: Both groups rate it higher than heredity as having a greater impact on lifespan.
Reporting by Patricia Reaney; editing by Christine Kearney and Lisa Von Ahn