Want to Live to 100? We Asked Centenarians to Share Their Secrets to Living to 100 – Parade

Joe Newman tools around Sarasota, Florida, in a red Mercedes convertible. All the better to squire his young fiance, Anita. Shes 100. Hes 107. John and Charlotte Henderson of Austin, Texastheyre 107 and 105, respectivelymet at the university there. Together more than 85 years, and married since 1939, theyre the oldest living married couple in America.

Call them super-agers. Theyve won the longevity lottery with the right mix of genetics and biochemistry. But wait, theres exciting news for the rest of us: Anybody can get pretty darn close. Turns out theres no secret to living to 100.

We all have a genetic blueprint that, on average, should let us live to 90 in great shape, saysThomas Perls, M.D., professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and a geriatrician at Boston Medical Center, whos tracked thousands of 100-plussers in his New England Centenarian Study (and now their kids too in a new $25 million National Institutes of Health study).

Average healthy life expectancy is 69, so most people are leaving 21 years of good life on the table, says Utah cardiologist John Day, M.D., who studied southern Chinas remote Longevity Village, home to a cluster of centenarians. After six months of living what he learned, he lost 35 pounds, dropped 100 points off his cholesterol and 25 off his blood pressure, cured his insomnia and went off five different meds.

We asked these centenarian whisperersresearchers whove met more of the oldest old than anyone on earthhow its done.

Its a myth that the older you get, the sicker you get. Its more like, the older you get, the healthier youve been, Perls says. Until your late 80s or 90s, genes get only a fourth of the credit. The rest is down to simple health behaviors.

Related:5 Ways You Can Improve Your Health Wherever You Live

Living to 100 Cheat Sheet: 10 Ways to Up Your Odds of Joining the Century Club

Its never too late to start snatching back some good years, longevity experts agree. The best time is to start from childhood, says longevity expert John Day, M.D. The second-best time is today. Heres how to get started.

Twist: Just enough less to maintain healthy weight.

Maybe you heard mice on super-low-calorie diets live longer. But only at calorie levels unrealistic for most humans, Perls says. Instead, try adjusting how much you consume per meal: Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper, says Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones Kitchen, based on diets followed by centenarians worldwide in places he calls Blue Zones.

Twist: But dont assume theres magic in alcohol.

Social engagement while drinking may be why long-lifers tend to have one to two drinks per day, says University of California, Irvines Claudia Kawas, M.D., whose 90+ Study found this sweet spot.

Twist: God works in mysterious ways for your well-being.

Researchers arent entirely sure why people practicing a religion live longer. But they credit its related social life (seeing a pattern here?), volunteerism, stress-reducing prayer and attitude of gratitude.

Twist: It helps if theyre healthy friends.

Health behaviors are as contagious as catching a cold, Buettner says. If your three best friends are obese, theres a 150 percent chance you will be. People who are fit, active and eat right tend to reinforce one another.

Twist: Be aware you can suffer toxic loneliness even while with others.

Older adults who see only their spouse or the same two family members all the time fare less well than those who get stimulation from a wider social circle.

Twist: When its safe, in person is better.

Real, not virtual, social connections are important, Day says. One study showed that social isolation is just as much a threat to longevity as smoking or obesity. Research shows a dose response: The more time spent in social activities (book clubs, volunteering, hobbies), the lower the mortality risk. When its not safe to meet face-to-face, digital social connection is better than nothing.

Twist: If youre not born this way, you might be able to develop it.

Centenarians in Nir Barzilais longevity study at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have an outgoing, easygoing, optimistic personalitytraits that keep them engaged with the world. It may be genetic, the author of Age Latersays, although personality can change even in adulthood.

Twist: You need to keep leveling up.

Crosswords only help when you first start, because you learn most at the beginning. Then you have to move on to Sudoku or other puzzles (or better, new brain-stretching activities) to get cognitive benefit, Kawas says.

Twist: Gym-rat marathoning not necessary.

It can be two or three shorter sets that add up to 45 minutes, says Kawas. Aging experts agree lifelong movementfrom climbing stairs to walks to dumbbellsis longevity aid No. 1.

Twist: Unlike a job, purpose doesnt end.

Retirement is a toxic word. It sends the signal that your productive life is over and now you begin a life of repose, Perls says. Adds Buettner: If you have a sense of purpose and are engaged with the world, theres a psychosomatic effect. Your body rises to it.

Twist: Anti-aging vitamin cocktails dont help.

What gets you to 90: basics. Focus on protein (but not much red meat), healthy fats and complex carbs. The five dietary pillars in the Blue Zones: whole grains, greens, tubers, nuts and beans. One cup of beans a day adds three to four years of life expectancy, Buettner says.

Related:20 Healthy Plant-Based Diet Recipes

Survivors first get hit with age-related diseases (stroke, heart attack, some COPD) after 60 but cope with them much better than the rest of us.

Delayersfirst develop age-related diseases after 80. They tend to stay independent to an average age of 93.

Escapers make it to 100 without showing disease. About 15 percent of centenarians in this group are likely to make it to supercentenarian, age 110. (Perls study includes more than 100 supers!)

Ruth Kundsin, 103, Quincy, Massachusetts andIda Keeling, 105, New York City

Their secret: Keep moving

Youll find Kundsin doing cardio and strength training at her local YMCA. Think youre too old to work with a trainer? She started with hers at 93. Keeling is a world record-holder in sprinting who didnt lace up running shoes until age 67.

Alan R. Tripp, 102, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania andMarvin Weisbord, 89, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Their secret: Try new things

Tripp wrote the lyrics for Senior Song Book, an album he made in collaboration with a fellow resident of his Pennsylvania retirement community, jazz pianist Marvin Weisbord. Its is available for streaming and on MP3, but the first run of CDs sold out within days.

Related:By the Numbers! Experts Pick the 60 Healthiest Cities in America

We asked our four longevity experts how studying the oldest of the old had changed their lives. Here are eight changes theyve madethat you can make too.

Next,These Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies Could Help You Live to 100!

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Want to Live to 100? We Asked Centenarians to Share Their Secrets to Living to 100 - Parade

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