There are things you can control and things that matter. When the two categories collide, that’s when you pay attention – the ball’s in your court to control the things that matter.

It’s easy in our busy, distracted lives to spend too much time on things that don’t matter and too much anxiety over things that we can’t control. In financial planning, we talk about the levers that influence our retirement outcomes, some of which we have more control over than others:

  • Full control: spending, saving, how long you work
  • Semi-control: investment return and inflation
  • No control: when you die

Nothing is absolute – full, semi and no control are all on a sliding scale. We could have a good conversation about each lever but I want to focus on the “when you die” lever.

Inspired by the front page story in Saturday’s paperlet’s talk about people who live to 100 and beyond. I admire people who live their lives well and my admiration only increases as they age. After all, my grandmother’s saying “old age ain’t no place for sissies” hints at what a challenge it is to age well.

109 centenarians were identified in Pima County – several attended the Tucson Medical Center’s celebration. Below are some snippets from the article that give you a good feel for spirit of those attending – remember, these folks are 100+:

  • One man takes a 40 minute bike ride through his neighborhood everyday…”because he can.”
  • Despite a prosthetic leg and new heart valve, one gal rides a stationary bike 4 miles daily before going to work at her family business where she was honored with a video “Helen on Wheels.” She loves working with the younger generation and shares an office with her great-granddaughter.
  • Another fellow enjoys a martini, straight up with one olive, every evening on his patio.
  • Another gal cleans her house daily, has eggs and toast every morning and a glass and a half of wine each night.
  • Most have hobbies. One gal became a stone sculptor in her 60’s working with large blocks of marble and granite. Now 101, her concession to age is not wearing high heels anymore.
  • One gal had her own TV show, “Open Truth,” on Access Tucson when she was in her 80’s and 90’s.
  • One fellow credits “flushing” his body, mind and attitude free of toxins.
  • Although she was run over by a tractor when she was 80 and had a stroke at 95, this gal cuddled babies in the neonatal ICU until she was 97 after spending 38 years volunteering with Meals on Wheels. Her advice? Have a goal every day.
  • The nephew of one gentlemen credits him with a positive and appreciative attitude saying “I haven’t made a single meal that he didn’t appreciate. He’s always grateful and giving thanks to someone. He’s very optimistic.”

Notice most are “gals” – 81% of centenarians are female. The number of centenarians in America is growing twice as fast as the population but is still behind other developed countries. And, interestingly, they are finding that those who live exceptionally long lives tend to experience shorter periods of illness before death.

Interested in your longevity? Check out this life expectancy calculator from the New England Centenarian Study. I can anticipate living to 97 – that’s both good news and something to consider for my own financial planning!

Common threads among these folks are that they are active, engaged and have a positive, forward-looking mindset. No, we can’t control how long we live but we can control how we live.