Those lucky enough to have made it to their hundredth birthdays have shared their secrets to living a long, healthy life.
Margaret Stretton, a youthful 100-year-old Londoner and Women’s Land Army veteran, said she did not retire from her job working in her local church until she was 99. She believes the fountain of youth lies in strong relationships and a sense of purpose — two perks her job offered.
Some centenarians have said that staying positive and living in the present has kept them young at heart while others credit staying engaged in hobbies such as painting and writing.
Nearly 100,000 Americans currently living have seen their hundredth birthdays and the number of people reaching the elusive mark each year is trending upwards. In 2015, the world was home to more than 450,000 centenarians, more than four times as many as in 1990.
Genetics plays an important role in a person’s likelihood of making to 100, or even beyond the average. But there are plenty of factors a person can adopt to help them extend their lifespan and their healthspan – the number of healthy years lived
Longevity experts who study centenarians typically focus on so-called Blue Zones, distinct parts of the world where people tend to live longer than the average
Americans now live 76.4 years on average, down from 78.8 years in 2019
But, while vast majority of Americans want to live well into their old age, the unfortunate reality is that US life expectancy is lower than many peer nations at 78.
The common threads among centenarians include having a sense of purpose and community as well as staying positive and keeping the mind sharp.
California screenwriter Norma Barzman, 102, said that this ongoing passion for different hobbies has helped her expand her community further.
She said: ‘I see other older people not doing much and not caring much about anything, whereas I love seeing new things.
‘I have met people like me of my age who are interested in things and who are working, who are writing, who are painting, and they have a much happier life. Keep on doing things!’
One hundred-and-one-year-old fashion icon Iris Apfel credits her passion for her work as a designer and model with keeping her spry and healthy: ‘I always say being passionate about my projects and putting my heart and soul into them have kept me young.’
Iris Apfel, a fashion icon and presidential textiles maven, said she stays young by living in the ‘now’ adding, ‘cliche as it is, age is just a number’
Ms Apfel, who become a model at 97, and has had a long career as an interior designer and businesswoman, said in February: ‘My first big job in fashion came when I was 84, so to me, cliche as it is, age is just a number.
‘That’s why I’ll never stop working. My philosophy is to live in the now – yesterday is gone, you don’t know if there’s even going to be a tomorrow, so you might as well enjoy today.’
Experts in longevity who study centenarians have known for years that staying engaged with hobbies, daily life tasks, family, and friends has a huge benefit on a person’s likelihood of surviving into their upper 90s and 100s.
They study parts of the world known as blue zones where people live the longest lives, consistently reaching age 100.
The zones include the islands of Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.
The centenarians across these communities maintain strong interpersonal relationships, are close to their families and feel they can trust their neighbors.
In Okinawa, Japan, the sense of purpose is known as ‘ikigai’.
Ikigai is believed to be such an effective tenant for living healthily that Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has included it in the official health promotion strategy.
A 2008 study of more than 43,000 Japanese found that not having ‘ikigai’ was linked to a 60 percent higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.
Having a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life has long been associated with longevity.
London-native Margaret Stretton said: ‘For the last two years, I’ve been making preserves and marmalade for a local charity. This year I’ve raised more than £100 already. The fact I’ve lived as long as I have is out of my hands – I don’t know why I’ve been blessed with this age.’
People who believe their lives have meaning also have lower levels of the hormone cortisol, a chemical that helps regulate the way our bodies react to stress.
It is activated in the adrenal glands – which are right about the kidneys – and disperses throughout the body.
In addition to its reputation as a stress hormone, cortisol is responsible for regulating blood pressure and the immune system. It also impacts our energy levels.
A 2016 meta-analysis of 10 distinct studies involving a total of more than 136,000 people shows that having a purpose in life can lower a person’s all-cause mortality risk by 17 percent.
Dr Gladys McGarey, 102, said finding her purpose in life has helped her stay youthful. Longevity experts agree that having a sense of purpose is a common thread among centenarians
Dr Gladys McGarey, 102, has written a book on the secrets to longevity. In it, she says, a sense of purpose is key.
She told CNBC Make It that in finding one’s ‘why’, they’re more likely to find their community, another key tenet to living a long, healthy life.
Successful centenarians are closely attuned to their community, whether that is their church or a local cafe.
Dr Carolyn Aldwin, the director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University told DailyMail.com: ‘If you go to any metropolitan area or a small town, you could find, like, a donut shop where older adults congregate every day, every week, on Tuesdays or something like that.
‘So being enmeshed in the community in a good way is really important.’
Keeping one’s mind sharp is also critical. Bernard Kalb, a former journalist from Maryland who died in January at age 100 stayed up to date on current events, a practice he maintained from a long career in news.
Mr Kalb said: ‘I go through the newspapers every morning, underline what’s most urgent and try to paste it in my mind.’
Bernard Kalb, who passed away in January at 100, maintained a practice into his old age of staying closely attuned with current events. He was a veteran correspondent for CBS, NBC and The New York Times before making a foray into government as a State Department spokesman
‘I want to be right at the cutting edge of the news. You have a responsibility to be interesting. Keep your eyes open, your emotions free. Leap into the future!’
Just as important as staying sharp is staying positive, a mindset that centenarians in blue zones share.
Chicago native Roslyn Menaker, a 103-year-old former boutique owner said she enjoys dressing up and going out and credits her caregiver.
Ms Menaker said: ‘I wear beautiful hats and go on daily walks – now in my wheelchair. What else is important? Happiness, joy, appreciation. A positive outlook. Kindness and generosity. Try not to worry. No smoking or drinking – except for an occasional cocktail.’
Maintaining a positive attitude, no matter how difficult at times, bolsters mental health, which in turn keeps the brain healthy and free from the type of cognitive decline seen in many elderly people or those with dementias.
Ida L Cheatham, a 103-year-old housekeeper and caterer from Virginia said: ‘Hate will destroy you, hate will destroy your mind.
Virginia native Ida Cheatham speaking your mind and maintaining your inner peace has helped her carry on
If you have a disagreement with people, or they do you wrong, speak your piece and go on. Keep your mind, because that’s freedom right there.
‘I love life – I know I was created by God to love life – so anything that happens, I don’t care how bad it is, I can do all of it.’
Harvard University researchers revealed eight surprising factors that raise the risk of suffering an early death — such as living in an unclean neighborhood, being estranged from children or being disrespected.
They developed a first-of-its-kind calculator that factors in these new risk factors to give users a percentage risk of dying over the next four years.