Is is possible for all of us to live to be 100 years old? Do centenarians have a secret, and if so what is it? It’s not just about living to be 100 though — if you want to live 100 years, or even beyond, then you want to be living as independently as possible with a fully functional and healthy body and mind.
There are many centenarians who are functioning remarkably well mentally, physically and emotionally. The lifestyle choices that they made, especially at an early age, appear to be the most important predictor of a long and healthy life. Also the part of the world that we live in and how we choose to live our life makes the biggest impact on how long and how well we will live. The leading cause of death is cardiovascular disease, and avoiding this involves mostly our lifestyle choices, not our genes.
So what are the centenarian’s secrets? Here are some steps which appear to be common amongst centenarians:
- Keep your low blood sugar level steady
High blood sugar levels are a major risk factor for developing diabetes, which in turn can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke. Centenarians tend to have low fasting blood sugar, below the recommended healthy blood glucose level of 100mg/dL, or 5.6 mmol/L. Especially chronically high blood sugar can accelerate aging and shorten our lifespan. So keeping blood sugar levels low is the first secret to healthy aging.
2. Maintain low blood pressure
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries, and is measured with two numbers — systolic and diastolic. Systolic blood pressure (the first number) refers to the amount of pressure in the arteries during the contraction of the heart muscle, and diastolic blood pressure (the second number) refers to the blood pressure when the heart muscle is between beats.
Many factors can increase blood pressure, including obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, certain hormones, stress, atherosclerosis, and the amount of sodium and water in the blood stream. Hypertension is defined as a blood pressure greater than 140 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) systolic and 90mmHg diastolic. This damages the inner layer of arteries and also arteries of the heart and brain, and can lead to heart attacks and stroke, as well as damaging blood vessels throughout the body, which can lead to limb amputation, kidney disease, and blindness. Studies of centenarians around the world have consistently found lower blood pressure levels.
3. Have low total cholesterol levels
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat like substance that is mostly produced in the liver and is an essential ingredient in hormones and cellular structures. The optimal total cholesterol level is under 200 mg/dL.
A major obstacle to living to or beyond 100 is the development of atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries. This plaque, along with hypertension, is the major cause of heart disease and stroke. We are not likely to live a long and healthy life if our arteries are stiff and clogged with cholesterol-laden atherosclerotic plaque. Many centenarians are able to delay the onset of any cardiovascular disease until the very end of their long lives, or avoid it completely.
4. Keep your weight steady, and consume less calories
Obesity leads to inefficient energy production in the body and an increased production of oxygen free radicals within the cells, leading to accelerated aging. People who live to the oldest age and remain healthy almost always have low body weights and are lean and fit. They typically do not gain or lose any considerable weight during their adults years. In an age when the average American eats 2,500 to 3,000 calories per day, those who eat closer to 1,800 to 2,000 calories per day with adequate nutrition levels live much longer and are more likely to live beyond 100 years.
Caloric restriction with optimal nutrition has been shown to significantly lower heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer risk factors and to extend life spans. Eating fewer calories appears to slow down the body’s metabolic rate and reduce the production of mitochondrial free radicals that cumulatively damage vital body molecules over time and lead to an earlier death. Research shows that oxidative stress from free radical damage contributes to aging and development of age-related diseases that shorten life. Vitamins and antioxidant enzymes play an important role in boosting the immune system and defending the human body against free radical damage.
5. Stay active and do regular exercise
Centenarians tend to have a lifelong history of regular physical activity, exercising and maintaining an active lifestyle for as long as they are able. Exercise is important throughout life, with sedentary people losing around 40 percent of their muscle mass and 30 percent of their strength between the age of 20 and 70.
6. If you smoke then stop smoking, and drink minimum alcohol
Almost all centenarians have not smoked at all in their lives, and among those who did smoke they did not smoke for very long before quitting. Smoking is the most important behavioral health hazard and the single most preventable cause of death and disease. Nitrosamines and other substances in cigarette smoke are potent oxidants and carcinogens that lead to accelerated aging and diseases related with aging.
Most centenarians drink little, or not at all. If you drink to excess — beyond one drink a day for a woman and two for a man — then most likely you are limiting your chances of reaching 100 years of age.
7. Schedule your sleep and get plenty of rest
Rest and restful sleep helps keep the immune system strong and blood pressure and sugar levels low, it helps to maintain a healthy weight, assists with emotional stability and forming new memories, and it reduces pain perception. Centenarians generally have regular sleep patterns and get plenty of restful, restorative sleep.
8. Keep your teeth and gums healthy
Avoiding gum disease, from mild gingivitis to more severe periodontitis, lowers the risk of age related diseases and is connected with a longer life expectancy.
9. Keep your mind active
Most centenarians regularly exercise their brains — reading, painting, playing a musical instrument, learning new languages, or in some way just continuing to learn and keep their mind active. This appears to build and expand neural networks in the brain, so keeping mentally busy and continuing to learn things is very important to long term survival.
10. Keep positivity in your life and have a structure
Many studies have found that centenarians have significantly lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. They are typically positive, happy, and extremely satisfied with their lives. How we handle stress is an important part of personality and has a profound effect on life expectancy, and positive personality traits are a strong indicator of living to be 100 years old. Centenarians also typically have a very structured day, doing the same activities according to a standard schedule. Extreme longevity is not avoiding the life’s problems, but rather responding to them efficiently and effectively.
11. Stay connected
Centenarians generally have open, extroverted personalities, typically being friendly with other people and maintaining close ties with friends and family. Nearly all centenarians have many meaningful relationships and almost none were “loners”. Having daily supportive connections with friends and family members seems to give a safe and secure feeling.
Centenarians are also characterized by having excellent psychospiritual tranquility and serenity. They typically get up every day with a purpose, feel that their lives are meaningful, and believe that the directions that their lives take is under their control but guided by an external power.
When we look at all of these common traits amongst centenarians we see that actually there is really no secret or surprise, nothing that we don’t already know or that we could easily guess. The difference is that although we know we should be doing these things, most people are not actually doing them. We need to apply these, at least one of them at a time, to our life and slowly change our lifestyle to make us age healthily to 100 years or even beyond.
“Living to be 100–16 Common Lifestyle Characteristics of the Oldest and Healthiest People in the World”; by Michael E. Howard, PhD