How to Live to 100

How to Live to 100

If you’re looking to light that 100th candle on your cake and smile for the photographer from the local newspaper, you might like to know, as a centenarian, you will be part of the world’s fastest growing age group.

Right now there are an estimated 593,000 centenarians worldwide. By 2050, when the oldest baby boomers will blow out their 100 candles, there will be almost 1 million.

On our five-yearly census night in 2006, New Zealand counted 537 centenarians in a then-population of 4,143,279, followed by 18,018 folk aged in their 90s.

Centenarians’ secrets for their longevity range from porridge for breakfast, to a sunny disposition and genetic good luck. There are those who smoke, those who have been overweight, and those who have survived wars, illness, loss and traumas that would have flattened lesser souls.

The New England Centenarian Study at the Harvard Medical School in the US has found few 100 year olds have had heart attacks, diabetes or suffered from dementia, which points to good nutrition and physical and mental well-being in their earlier years.

Longevity appears to run in families. The siblings of centenarians are four times more likely than the general population to reach their 90s and eight times more likely to reach 100. Women aged 100+ outnumber men, but they’re generally far less well than their male peers.

The US and Japan boast the most centenarians, but in March of 2009 we claimed the world’s oldest twins in Beryl Maguley (Waiuku) and Matilda Hanlon (Auckland), who celebrated their 100th birthdays.

Practical tips to achieving 100 quality years

For anyone serious about reaching their 100th birthday, it’s never too late to swap a bad habit for a new one. Experts say it takes three weeks to change a habit, so sharpen your mind, stop those negative thoughts and make one small change at a time.

The American Cancer Society has found even if you’ve smoked for 50 years, you can still add a few years to your life by kicking the habit. Swap it for a little gardening to keep your hands busy.

Staying connected avoids depressing isolation, whether it is bowls with your peers or swapping your memories with grandchildren. Aim for three social connections, outside of your family, per week (if you can).

It is well documented social ties reduce our risk of disease and it’s also well researched few centenarians have had heart attacks, developed Alzheimer’s or diabetes.

Find yourself a mate. As the English novelist Charles Reade put it: “A wife is essential to great longevity; she is the receptacle of half a man’s cares, and two-thirds of his ill-humour”.

Did that get you laughing? Laugh out loud everyday and get yourself fit to blow out those 100 candles on your cake.

And remember not to take it all too seriously, Britain’s Henry Allingham who died aged 113 attributed his longevity to “cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women”.

Why Jeanne Calment of France lived to 122

France’s Jeanne Calment was the oldest, authenticated, living person when she died in 1997 at the age of 122.

Her story fascinated researchers, who attributed her longevity to her immunity to stress. She reportedly once said: “If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”

Jeanne had genes on her side, and she also had plenty to complain about if she had been any less positive. Her father died when he was 94, and her mother at the age of 86. Jeanne herself was a widow for more than 50 years after her husband died at the age of 46, after eating a dessert of spoiled preserved cherries. Her daughter died in 1934 from pneumonia, and her daughter’s son, whom Jeanne raised, died in 1963 in a car accident.

Jeanne’s stress antidote? She ate 2lbs of chocolate a week until the age of 119 before finally taking her doctor’s advice to quit sweets. She took up fencing at the age of 85 and rode a bicycle until she was 100. She gave up smoking at the age of 119, only because she was too blind to light up, and too vain to ask for help to do it!

Although she was blind, almost deaf and confined to a wheelchair near the end, her legendary wit never left her.

On her 120th birthday she declared: “I’ve waited 110 years to be famous, I count on taking advantage of it.”

Asked what kind of future she expected ahead, she replied: “A very short one.”