What’s the secret to living to 100? How long are you likely to live? Living to be 100 was once a rare event, but that is changing. Today, centenarians are the fastest growing segment of our population, and science is slowly unraveling their secrets.
Health officials predict that by 2050, more than 800,000 Americans will be living into their second century of life. These new centenarians are not frail, ailing, or housebound. Most are mentally alert, relatively free of disabilities, and active members of society. Unlike most people, centenarians rarely develop diseases of aging—such as heart disease, metabolic disease, cancer, and dementia—until well into their 90s. They’re also more likely to bounce back from disease rather than entering a spiral of declining health.
The New England Centenarian Study, the world’s largest study of people who’ve lived past 100, found that those who reach that mark tend to have not only exceptional long lives, but unusually healthy ones.
Genes are responsible for up to 35% of the physiological changes of aging, and longevity itself is 25–35% inheritable. But genetics is only part of the equation. Two additional keys to a long, healthy life include the ability to bounce back from stress and the ability to keep moving forward after life’s inevitable setbacks.
Working with National Geographic, the National Institutes on Aging, and AARP, writer and adventurer Dan Buettner has led teams of scientists to parts of the world where people live the longest, happiest, healthiest lives. These areas, or Blue Zones as Buettner calls them, include:
Loma Linda, California
Nicoya, Costa Rica
The lifestyles of all Blue Zone residents share nine specific characteristics. The researchers call these the Power 9 and describe them as follows (www.bluezones.com):
1. Move Naturally: The average American burns fewer than 100 calories a day by engaging in “exercise.” We can get more physical activity naturally if we live in walk-friendly communities, de-convenience our homes by getting rid of power tools, and grow gardens. Walking is the best activity for longevity.
2. Know Your Purpose: People who have a reason to wake up in the morning live up to seven years longer than those who don’t. Know your values, passions, and talents—and share them on a regular basis.
3. Down Shift: Chronic inflammation caused by stress is related to every major age-related disease. To reverse inflammation, find time each day to meditate, nap, pray, or enjoy a happy hour.
4. The 80% Rule: Reduce your caloric intake by 20%. Eat a big breakfast, eat with your family or people whose company you enjoy, remove the TV from your dining area, and offer pre-meal expressions of appreciation.
5. Plant Slant: Eat mostly a plant-based diet with lots of beans, nuts, and green plants. Eat meat in small portions (the size of a deck of cards) no more than twice weekly.
6. Wine at 5: Moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers. Two glasses of wine daily will add years to your life, especially when consumed during a plant-based meal.
7. Family First: Living in a thriving family is worth a half a dozen extra years of life expectancy. Invest time in your kids, nurture a monogamous relationship, and keep your aging parents nearby.
8. Belong: Recommit, reconnect, or explore a new faith-based community. It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist. People who attend at least 4 services a week at their faith community live an extra 4 to 14 years.
9. Right Tribe: Your friends have a long-term, measurable impact on your health and longevity. Choosing your friends carefully and expanding your social circle to include healthy-minded, supportive people might be the most powerful thing you can do to add years to your life.
Additional Tips for Living to 100
It doesn’t matter what your age or stage of life, you have the power to change many of the variables that influence disability and longevity.
- Don’t smoke.
- Include physical and mental activities in your daily routine.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
- Take a multivitamin and get enough vitamin D.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Challenge your mind.
- Create a strong social network.
- Take care of your health with regular checkups.
- Practice good dental hygiene and see a dentist regularly.
- Don’t worry.