Do You Want to Live 100 Years?

The secrets of centenarians

By Harold Miller      Email:

When President Franklin Roosevelt introduced the Social Security Act of 1935, as America was just recovering from the crash of 1929, most people thought he was out of his mind to pay a person an income even after their retirement. The average life for American men at that time was 47 years.

As you grow older, your life expectancy stretches. For example, while the life expectancy of a male at that time was 47, today a 65-year-old could expect to live 19 additional years. The oldest of the old are often remarkably healthy.

How well your age will help dictate how long you stay alive and how happy you do so. Whether or not your family is long-lived the answers lie less in your genes than in your actions. Do you smoke? Do you eat well? Are you active? Are you an active weight? Do you have ailments now that are inherited from family background?

If your answers are discouraging, take heart. It is not too late to make changes.

A recent study in the American Journal of Medicine focused on adults who adopted a healthier lifestyle during middle age.

The researchers followed 15,700 adults (age 45 to 65) for a decade and noted that 970 of the people embraced a healthier lifestyle. By the sixth year of the study these individuals had eaten five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables, worked at least two and a half hours per week, did not smoke, and avoided obesity. Just four years later the group of individuals who made these changes had a 40% lower rate of death and 35% lower death rate for any reason.

10 steps towards a longer, healthier life

• Don’t smoke.

• Build physical and mental activities into every day.

• Eat a healthy diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.

• Have a daily multivitamin.

• Maintain a healthy weight [not too thin, not too fat].

• Challenge your brain.

• Build a strong social network.

• Protect your sight, hearing and general health by following preventive measures.

• Floss, brush and see a dentist regularly.

• Discuss with your doctor whether you need any medication, perhaps to control high blood pressure or lower cholesterol.

More study is needed to clarify the link between optimism and good health. It is likely that multiple factors are involved. Personality is complex, and doctors do not know if optimism is hard-wired into an individual or if a sunny disposition can be nurtured in some way.

“Twixt the optimist and pessimist

The difference is a droll

The optimist sees the doughnut

But the pessimist sees only the hole.”

Today’s doctors do not think much of doughnuts, but they are accumulating evidence that optimism is good for health. Do your best to seek silver linings.

According to a 2010 Census, there are more than 371,000 people aged 95 and older in the U.S. while 85- to 94-year-olds number five million. Studies of people who reach the century mark note that their health is surprisingly robust despite advanced age. Once decline does set in for these centenarians, death follows fairly quickly. That’s an attractive prospect for those who fear a drawn-out loss of health and independence in their waning years — like me!

What is a centenarian’s secret?

Not surprisingly genes play a role. A study of Swedish twins 80 and older attributed about half of the changes in mental function to genes, up to 35% and that longevity itself is inheritable.  It is all very well to pile up statistics on average life span, but what does this tell you about your life? Not enough. Clearly, more work needs to be done to crack the code of ageing. But you do not have to wait until the final answers are in to take steps that may extend and enhance your life right now.