Around the world, more and more seniors are hitting the century mark. Centenarians – people who are 100 years old or older – are the fastest growing part of the population, with nearly 450,000 worldwide. The United States currently has around 72,000 centenarians, which is the most of any country. With the number of centenarians rising each year around the world, experts say there could be 1 million by the year 2050. Lynn Peters Adler, author of Celebrate 100: Centenarian Secrets to Success in Business and Life, said that 1 in 26 baby boomers is now expected to live to 100, and many more than that will nearly reach that point, living into their mid-to-late 90s.
So what is the secret to living past your 100th birthday? According to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, it mostly depends on genetics. But other factors like lifestyle choices can contribute to the odds as well. Many centenarians lead active lives and report feeling 20 years younger than they are.
“I don’t think old and I don’t feel old,” says centenarian Astrid Thoenig, 103, who is still the office manager in her family’s New Jersey insurance agency.
There are a few key things that centenarians consider important to not only reaching the age of 100, but to maintaining their quality of life: money, physical and mental fitness, having loved ones nearby, and leaving a legacy.
Nearly 1 in 4 centenarians say they were not financially prepared to live as long as they have, according to a national survey of 100-year-olds recently conducted by Holiday Retirement. Today’s centenarians have lived through many diverse economic situations, including difficult ones like the Great Depression and the Great Recession. Even though those times provided them with the experience of learning to live without many things, 1 in 10 centenarians still say they should have been better at sacrificing certain things in order to save more money throughout their lives.
One tip from centenarians is to start saving early. The Employee Benefit Research Institute recommends that workers save around 10 to 20 times what they earn each year to maintain their current standard of living. One in 10 centenarians also says that they wish they had a financial advisor when planning for retirement, to know where and when to invest their money. They also say it is important to plan and stick to a budget. Fifteen percent of the centenarians surveyed said adults today will most likely regret spending too much money, while 13 percent said adults will regret not saving enough money.
Many centenarians, like Nicholas Pierro, age 100, say the key to financial quality late in life is living simply and avoiding debt.
“For less than seven years I had a mortgage. I paid everything outright, and I’ve lived that way until today,” Pierro said. “That is the secret to longevity right there.”
Physical and Mental Fitness
Physical fitness is considered one of the key factors to living a longer life, but exercise does not have to be in large amounts or in high intensity. In his book Ageless Body Timeless Mind, Dr. Deepak Chopra said performing consistent, low-level activity, like walking half an hour a day, can cause one to gain much of the longevity benefits conferred by rigorous exercise.
Another factor is diet. One tip for longevity is to “eat like it’s 1960,” which may be why many centenarians have lived as long as they have. They did not grow up eating the super-sized portions of today’s society. Only 20 percent of centenarians say they follow a specific diet; most say to just eat good food in moderation, and simply eat less to lose weight. Experts say a vegetarian diet could increase longevity, as shown by many centenarians. In Okinawa, Japan, an island with a high number of centenarians, the daily diet is low in calories and high in fruits and vegetables, fiber, and good fats, like omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. In Loma Linda, Calif., another community with a high concentration of centenarians, their Seventh-Day Adventist lifestyle means they avoid smoking, drinking, and excess amounts of sugar.
Most centenarians are creatures of habits and maintain strong routines, which helps them keep their mental sharpness. Exercise can also help seniors stay mentally fit by decreasing emotional stress, and group exercise classes are a great social activity as well. Hobbies like reading, crafts, crossword puzzles, and meditation are all good ways to maintain mental health in older age.
Having Loved Ones Nearby
Researchers have found that people are happier and healthier when they are with other people than when they are alone—and the “boost” is the same for introverts and extroverts. They have also found that the positive effects from sustained connections with others are lasting.
This is why being surrounded by loved ones and friends can help to keep a person both mentally fit and happy. Having other family members around can help keep depression at bay for widows and widowers. The Huffington Post reported that happy people live longer by 35 percent. Many centenarians strive to stay happy and content by seeking out social situations and surrounding themselves with their family.
Leaving a Legacy
As centenarians age, they may begin to think how they could leave a legacy for their families to remember. The first thought may be leaving money or possessions, but a legacy can go much further than that. Other tangible ways to leave a legacy could include making a family tree, writing down memories and stories in narrative form, recording stories in video or audio form, or collecting family recipes. These things could make a bigger impact on loved ones than any amount of money.
Perhaps the best way to leave a legacy is to simply spend time with loved ones. According to 100 Years of Wisdom, a study of centenarians done by Holiday Retirement, 34 percent of centenarians said the most important advice they could give to today’s parents is to spend more time with their children. And 80 percent attributed their health and happiness to spending time with their families.
Another way to leave a mark on society is by giving back to the community. Not only does this mean philanthropic gifts, but also volunteering one’s time. Many centenarians say it is not good to just stop working abruptly after retirement. Spending time working and volunteering in the community can be another way to stay young and provide a sense of purpose, while contributing to the greater good.
“It’s wonderful to live long. Until one is 60 years old, it is easy to work for one’s family and to achieve one’s goals. But in our later years, we should strive to contribute to society,” said Shigeaki Hinohara, a 102-year-old doctor in Tokyo. “Since the age of 65, I have worked as a volunteer. I still put in 18 hours seven days a week and love every minute of it.”
Written by Taylor French, Amada Contributor.