Successful Aging: 10 tips for living to 100 years old
Q. I am 91 but would like to live to 100. Can you share some ideas on how to accomplish this? Thanks, D.E.
There have been many studies on centenarians to discover the secret for a long life.
One of the largest and most comprehensive studies is the New England Centenarian Study by Dr. Thomas Perls which identifies characteristics centenarians share and reasons for it.
Perls suggests several things we can do to increase our chances of living a long life as described in his podcast of September 12, 2022 and in his book, “Living to 100: Lessons In living to Your Maximum Potential at Any Age” (Basic Books, 1999). Additional evidence comes from the Blue Zones which are places where people are living longer lives with more vitality. See “Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest” by Dan Buettner. Unless otherwise noted, most of the research is from the Perls’ study.
Here are 10 suggestions:
1. Exercise regularly. Most centenarians in the Perls and Buettner studies kept active both physically and mentally. When Buettner asked the very long-lived Costa Ricans their secret to longevity, they said they enjoyed physical work all of their lives. In Sardinia, these older people leave their homes around November to walk their sheep in areas for food and don’t return until April or May.
2. Manage stress. Centenarians are natural stress shedders as an innate part of their personality. As Perls notes in his book, “we may not be able to change our personalities, but we can change how we respond to situations.” So, longevity is not eliminating stress; it is how we respond to it. Furthermore, stress has been referred to as an aging accelerator
3. Eat right. Keep consumption of meat to a minimum. The Blue Zone study found the daily food intake of people living in the geographic blues zones is about 95 percent vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes. These long-lived people do not eat much meat, dairy, sugary foods or drinks and processed food. Also, don’t eat until you are stuffed. Those in Okinawa eat until they are 80 percent full called “hara hachi bu.”
4. Don’t smoke. Smoking was almost nonexistent among centenarians. The few who smoked in their earlier years quickly abandoned the habit. Also, consumption of alcohol was uncommon although a few drank regularly.
5. Have a sense of humor. Centenarians have it, even those who were cognitively impaired. Humor is associated with good physical health and psychological adjustment and helps us think creatively and solve problems.
6. Don’t be neurotic. Centenarians, particularly women, seem to be relatively immune to neuroticism. That means being immune to having unhealthy feelings like anger, fear, guilt and sadness and aspects of depression, anxiety and hostility. Those low on neuroticism are calm and collected even during crises.
7. Be charismatic. Centenarians have a personal magnetism that attracts people and inspires respect and affection. It also is a protection against depression and stress. With humor, it leads people to admire and be around them. Consider if you are age 90 and need a ride to the fitness center or doctor. With charisma, others may eagerly want to help you. If you are miserable and grouchy – you might be alone.
8. Be spiritual. Most centenarians have a lifelong awareness of their spiritual side and relationship with God, regardless of their observance of holy days and rituals. Evidently, religion and prayer, similar to laughter and being close, have important health-giving effects that cannot be replicated by drugs or diet, according to Perls and Buettner.
9. Be adaptable. Centenarians easily adapt to new environments. That includes moving into assisted living and nursing homes. They are realistic in acknowledging they can no longer function well independently. Perls writes, “they see the writing on the wall.” When the best solution is some form of assisted living, “they jump right in.”
10. Have a sense of purpose. Centenarians living in Blue Zone areas are reported to have a strong sense of purpose throughout their lives. Okinawans call it “ikigai” – a reason to get up in the morning; those in Nicoya, Costa Rica call it “plan de vida.”
To get a sense of your chances to reach 100, see the Living to be 100 Life Expectancy Calculator developed by Dr. Perls at https://www.livingto100.com/calculator.
D.E., we hope this gives you some guidance in valued behaviors and lifestyles that relate to longevity. Of course, there are no guarantees. One more thing – make sure to wear your seatbelt. Best wishes in meeting your goal and know that kindness is everything.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity