First, let’s put the importance of personality in the context of longevity. Since 2013, we have been carrying out laboratory studies at Concordia University, with the support of the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, in order to discover new molecules making it possible to slow down the body’s urge to age, thus slowing down primary aging. This approach, using natural molecules from plants, is added to healthy lifestyles in order to increase our chances of living longer in good health. To do this, it will be important to pay attention to all facets of a healthy lifestyle, including personality.

When writing my books (Live Young Longer – currently only available in French), I grouped healthy lifestyle habits under 4 main factors by describing a 5th factor that I named a facilitating factor. This facilitating factor is being inherently positive, and it is more of a personality type than just a quality. What if I told you that all centenarians have the same personality traits, regardless of their country of origin, and regardless of their culture? This is necessarily an important aspect of healthy aging.

Personality: Keeping Us From Getting Old

Henri Matisse, a great French artist who died in 1954, said that “you can’t help getting old, but you can help yourself from getting old”. He was of course referring to the state of mind. Among the factors associated with longevity, personality is one supported by a large number of studies of centenarians from Japan, Sweden, the United States and Europe. These are fascinating studies. The majority of centenarians share some common personality traits. It goes without saying that if these personality traits are common to a multitude of nationalities with completely different customs, they must facilitate or partly explain the longevity of these individuals.

But what is personality? What does it depend on? Personality refers to a stable state of cognitive characteristics, motivations, social, emotional and behavioral characteristics. In order to study the importance of personality in an aging context, measurement tools were developed. These tools consider neuroticism/emotional stability, extroversion, openness to experiences, pleasantness and conscientiousness of people.

Neuroticism is characterized by a persistent tendency towards negative emotions; negative people. This personality trait is linked to poorer longevity. These individuals are prone to anxiety, anger, guilt and depression.

As for extroverted individuals, they tend to derive great satisfaction from social interactions. They will therefore give greater importance to social life and its quality. They are enthusiastic and talkative. They enjoy group activities and tend to interact socially rather than being alone. Quality social life is strongly correlated with longevity and healthy aging, including retention of cognitive abilities.

Is It Hereditary?

Our personality is of course influenced by the way we were brought up, by family history, but also by certain genetic predispositions, the environment and socio-cultural factors. If we are talking about predispositions, it is because genetics can influence the development of certain personalities. We would tend to think that genetics have little to do with it and that education and the family environment play a major role. Certain personality traits have a strong genetic dependence. Neuroticism (a strong negative tendency in an individual) is said to be strongly hereditary, with 43% genetic dependence. The same is true for conscientious and outgoing traits with 43% and 47% levels of genetic dependence. It should also be noted that for 57% of negative people, it is not about genetics, but the rather, something they have learned.

Look for the Positive

Studies have shown that centenarians are less stressed, easier to live with, and more efficient in general. They are not very negative (neurotic) and much more outgoing and conscientious. In addition, neuroticism has been shown to be a significant risk factor for depression and premature death. To be more precise, the direct physiological effects of having thoughts constantly directed towards negative emotions increase the risks of disease. These physiological effects translate into impacts on the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, production of stress hormones, increased blood pressure, altered metabolism, increased inflammation, and reduced body function for immunological defense.

A more conscientious personality will have indirect impacts through lifestyle habits geared towards prevention, better nutrition, reduction of negative habits, etc. A recent study grouped the beneficial personality traits of centenarians into two categories:

  1. A positive attitude towards life (optimism, easy going, laughs easily);
  2. An ability to express emotions (freely, without repressing them).

One study has shown a link between a positive attitude towards one’s general health and the maintenance of cognitive abilities. In addition to helping to age well, a positive attitude towards life would help maintain cognitive abilities for longer. Another recent study, of centenarians in Hong Kong, reported four important considerations they possessed:

  • A positive relationship with others,
  • Being happy and experienced positive events,
  • Having hope for the future, and
  • A positive attitude towards life.

How Important It Is to Centenarians

The best known and most studied population for its high proportion of centenarians is that of Okinawa, Japan. Okinawa Island is part of the Okinawa Archipelago, made up of a large number of islands in Southern Japan. These islands form a nature reserve sheltering unique animal species. We can find 4 to 5 times more centenarians there and the descendants of Okinawa are 2.5 to 5 times more likely to live over 90 years than the North American average.

Although Japan is the industrialized country where people have the longest life expectancy, that of the Okinawa people is still significantly 4-5% higher than in the rest of Japan. Okinawa is also the source of the largest centenarians tracking study in the world. The study began in 1976 and has followed over 900 centenarians to date. This population maintains a unique culture, distinct from traditional Japanese culture in terms of food, art, religion and their eating habits. Families are larger and usually live under or near the same roof in the same village.


By the late 1980s, certain genetic factors related to inflammation had already been identified as representative of the population of Okinawa. Likewise, the characterization of their exceptional state of health revealed low rates of cardiovascular disease, higher bone density, lower cognitive loss as they aged, etc. Okinawan centenarians are aging in good health. They remain, in 80% of cases, without health problems before the age of 80. The majority of centenarians have no serious problems before 100 years old. Their health subsequently deteriorates between the ages of 100 and 105. In addition, cancer or cardiovascular disease are not the leading causes of death for Japanese centenarians: it is pneumonia.

However, it is difficult to relate these characteristics of good health to their particular genetics or their lifestyle. Given that each family shares the same lifestyle habits and the same genetic background, one can imagine that the search for the cause of their longevity is laborious. It is clear, however, that heredity and lifestyle have something to do with it.


The Okinawan diet is now recognized for its very important health benefits:

  • Little meat,
  • A lot of vegetables,
  • Soy,
  • Fish,
  • No refined grain products (bleached flour),
  • Little salt,
  • Little saturated fat,
  • Few dairy products.

Their diets are high in nutrients from fruits and vegetables, and low in calories. This diet would, among other things, have a significant anti-inflammatory impact. It is also important to mention that the Japanese tend to stop eating before they are completely satisfied: “Hara Hachi bu” (eat only to be 80% full). Because of this habit and their low-calorie diet, they exhibit a low body mass index (low body weight for height) and a health profile that resembles those achieved through calorie restriction.

However, the importance of other lifestyle habits should not be overlooked either. They still work in the production of vegetables and they sell it themselves. They ride a bicycle, walk several miles a day, and do yoga, karate, or dance. Some even claimed to still have an active sex life at 90 years old. Physical activity also keeps them connected to society. They place a lot of importance on taking care of each other. In general, they have a positive outlook on life, exude a zest for life, and strongly believe that everyone has a purpose (“ikari”). This reason for being is also a reason for living, a way to be optimistic about life and to stay positive. This attitude allows them to experience very little stress. Which brings us back to their personality.

What About the Other Populations of Super-Centenarians?

There are five known and well-documented regions (there are of course others), whose inhabitants have a longer life expectancy:

  • The Okinawa region,
  • The island of Sardinia in Italy,
  • A small community in California,
  • A mountainous region in Costa Rica (the Nicoya Peninsula), and
  • The Ikaria Island in Greece.

These regions were categorized as “blue zones”, places where centenarians are still healthy. Valter Longo, eminent researcher in the field of aging, director of two cutting-edge research centers, described a 6th region in his book “The Longevity Diet”, also located in Italy. These people are particularly healthy all their lives. For example, for the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, this is the population with the lowest middle-aged death rate, worldwide. A 60-year-old living in the Nicoya Peninsula is four times more likely to live to 90 years of age than the average American.

Similar to Okinawa, all these communities share the same longevity factors: a diet based on a high consumption of fruits and vegetables, moderate physical activity integrated into their lifestyle, a very important social/ family life, a spiritual side/meaning in life that gives them a reason to live and reduces their stress.

The Most Important Factor

When asked what is the most important factor, I always answer the quality of social life. However, to be successful in developing a high-quality social life, you need to be a radiant, pleasant, positive and outgoing person. To get there, develop your personality!


Originally published in Vitalité QC magazine (French only):




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