What’s the secret to living to 100? Here’s the answer from seven people who have passed the century mark…
Anti-Aging Secrets From 7 Centenarians
You may have heard of Ida Keeling, the 101-year-old New Yorker who recently set a new world record in the 100-meter dash for her age group. While reading or watching a news story about her, you may have also questioned your life choices a little bit. That’s a typical reaction, considering there are plenty of folks close to half her age who can’t exert much energy – let alone sprint around a track at record speed – without canes and oxygen tanks. You think: How is this possible? What are the necessary ingredients for maintaining such impressive health deep into old age?
Quite often, the answer is the same regardless of the demographic in question. Maintaining health in old age looks similar to maintaining health in toddlerhood, pubescence or middle age. Occasionally, popular articles emerge touting the secret to great health in your 40s, as if the advice would be inaccurate, even dangerous, for a 38-year-old or a 51-year-old to heed. But if it’s sage advice, that’s not the case.
The answer to lifelong good health is always painfully simple; it’s never anything sensational or news-worthy (ironic, I know). Consider an athlete, after a stunning performance on the grandest of stages, sitting at a press conference amid a sea of flashing cameras and reporters eagerly asking for the secret to success. Most responses, often accompanied by a shy shrug, are along the lines of: “I don’t know, I just did it.” Or, “I kept it simple.” Or, “I just did the right things.” Attractive for the headlines? No. But accurate? Yes.
When it comes to maintaining health and wellness, embrace the simple and toss the fad diets, trendy workouts and “secret formulas.” It’s far easier anyway to make habits out of simple behaviors. Plus, it takes less cognitive horsepower to stick with simple, realistic plans. (A note of caution: Don’t mistake “simple and realistic” for “a waste of time” and “not going to get me healthy.”) Complex plans – in which you must set several highly-challenging, potentially unrealistic health-minded goals at once – require more willpower, which can be depleted. If that happens, you could wind up devouring the whole tub of ice cream or throwing in the towel on exercise.
Just take it from these centenarians who’ve been asked by reporters for advice about living long and well. Their language is simple, honest and direct. In a society in which many are answering the question about the secret to health with attractive gadgets and gizmos aplenty, the answers that elicit a “That’s it?!” are often the wisest to follow. Listen up:
“One shouldn’t eat too much in the evening, it may cause sickness.” – Stanislaw Kowalski, 106 years old, in the Daily Mail
This phrase could easily be attributed to a mother admonishing her 6-year-old before bedtime – and she, too, would have the right idea. If heavy eating is something you’re unwilling to give up, make sure to devote time earlier in the day to gluttony. As some studies suggest, when we consume food late at night, the body may be more inclined to store those calories as fat (leading to weight gain) than to burn it as energy. The timing of our meals can have an impact on health.
“I’ve got to get my hour in every day.” – Ida Keeling, 101 years old, in the New York Times
Incorporating exercise as a firm and non-negotiable part of your daily life – just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower – makes it routinized. That’s the case with any action – good or bad – you repeat over time and with deliberate practice, since it causes the brain’s neural connections to become stronger and thicker. Making physical activity a natural part of your life will, like a muscle, make that habit stronger and simpler to carry out.
“I never want to go backwards. I’m a forward type of person.” – Ida Keeling, 101 years old, also in the New York Times
Set goals for yourself. Start simple and small, and once you accomplish them, you’ll want to set more challenging personal goals. For example, instead of aiming to run a marathon in the fall, plan to add one jog to your schedule each week. Or, rather than striving to lose 16 pounds by next month, set a goal to add an extra 45-minute workout to your weekly schedule. Attaining these smaller goals will motivate you to reach for something larger.
“Moderation, attitude, gratitude … that’s it.” – Lauretta Taggert, at 100 years old, according to USA Today
Mindset affects health. Our mental outlook influences everything from our cardiorespiratory health to our sleep patterns to our posture. Adopting a mindset focused on growing, learning and loving opens us up to new experiences, facilitates creativity and makes it more likely that we’ll take better care of ourselves and those around us.
“Family … makes me happy.” – Susannah Mushatt Jones, who lived to age 116, as reported by NPR
That’s what Harvard psychiatrist Robert Waldinger has been saying all along. As the director of the Laboratory Of Adult Development at Massachusetts General Hospital, he’s spearheading a study on adult happiness that has tracked hundreds of American men for over 75 years. His main conclusion? Form good relationships and you’ll be alright.
“Sleep and eat well and you will live a long time.” – Misao Okawa, who lived to age 117, according to The Telegraph
Get a good night’s sleep, for goodness sake. Study after study shows us that sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, muscle growth, memory and learning, among other functions. Sure, if you’re a nursing mother or a chronic insomniac, getting sufficient rest may be easier said than done, if not impossible. But for the rest of us, excuses for getting less than seven or eight hours nightly aren’t worth the cost to health.
“I participate in lots of activities.” – Mae Lewis, born November 1912, in Real Simple
Immerse yourself in a new hobby or interest; something that stretches your body or mind and takes you out of your comfort zone. Research shows new experiences stimulate the brain in novel ways, and the physical demand of exposing yourself to new movement patterns is beneficial. Picking up squash, learning the harpsicord and taking up basket weaving are fine examples of (likely) new activities that excite the senses, challenge you and, in effect, boost your mental and physical health.
Don’t eat too much, move your body regularly, set goals, surround yourself with loved ones, sleep well and find new interests. Nothing sexy or new about it. Attractive for the headlines? No. But accurate? Yes.