At this point, we’re all familiar with the trope. A local news station visits a retirement home to celebrate Muriel’s 106th birthday. She’s deaf or blind or both or neither, sitting in a wheelchair in the “good spot” next to the TV set, and a reporter asks her her secret. You’ve lived through both World Wars?! How’d you do it? Then Muriel gets to flash a mischievous grin and tells us she smoked a pack a day for 50 years.
Interacting with centenarians in this way has long made them seem like circus oddities. It trivializes the concept of lifespan and longevity, reducing the science to a throw-your-hands-in-the-hair “Who the hell knows!” It reinforces the idea that our time on this planet isn’t necessarily under our control. If my dad had a stroke and his dad had a stroke then one’s probably coming for me too, right? If I make it to 80, or — god forbid — 90, I’ve just beaten the odds. Right?
Not exactly. Since the mid-1990s, in fact, following the infamous Danish twins study, researchers have understood longevity to be “only moderately heritable.” For a while, this spawned estimates that genetics accounted for somewhere between 20 and 30% of one’s longevity. More recently, scientists have concluded that the true heritability of human longevity at birth is closer to just 7%.
Where does that other 93% come from? Your lifestyle. Your decisions. Your everyday habits, big and small. It’s possible to put years on your life, to surge past both average life expectancy and your own expectations, by resolving to live a certain way. The crazy part? This doesn’t involve some complex Ponce de Leónian quest. You don’t even have to search far and wide for the answers.
Thanks to the efforts of vanguard sociologists, geneticists and historians, we know where the world’s largest concentration of centenarians live and how they spend their days. (They’re called Blue Zones, and the way people cook, move and even happy hour in them is truly revelatory.) We also know, courtesy of a renowned doctor with whom we spoke last year, that certain behaviors can decelerate cellular aging and push the human lifespan into hitherto uncharted territories, and also that we should probably stop eating hot dogs.
You might wonder: Why would I want to live longer? Doesn’t the end of life look drawn out, expensive and horrible? Why would I sign up for decades of suffering? Well, the latest wave of longevity research isn’t focused on living years for the sake of years. It’s concerned with quality years.
Think about it. More years to travel, to exercise, to spend time with your family and whatever new family comes along. An entire life of creativity and challenges to enjoy after retirement. And consider this: those who make it to 100 are no more likely to die at 108 years old than 103. Genetics do start to factor in a bit more once you get way up there in age (hence how the Muriels of the world make it to 106), but overall, your risk of dying from any of the usual diseases plateaus. Longevity wizards only really suffer in the last couple years of their lives.
Take note — this movement is going to happen, with or without you. With an assist from modern medical care, scientists project there will be 25 million centenarians scattered across the world by 2100. (There are currently just 573,000.) But you don’t need to wait for Benjamin Button patents from the big pharmaceuticals. You can start living in the name of longevity today.
Below, 100 ways to live to 100, broken down by how you optimize your lifespan through diet, fitness, good choices and some truly wild wild cards. Before diving in, understand that you can’t do all of them; some of them are likely even incompatible. But the idea is to cherrypick those that work for your life. Ultimately, if nothing else, know this: making the call right now to act in the name of longevity — whether your “right now” is 35 or 65 — won’t just add life to your ledger. It’ll enrich and lighten every year along the way.
1. Eat fresh ingredients grown nearby
The planet’s longest-living communities all have access to food from farms and orchards down the road — that’s to say, within a 10-mile radius of their homes. These ingredients aren’t treated with pesticides or pumped with preservatives; they’re their original nutrient-dense, fiber-rich selves. Sound expensive? So are late-life medical bills.
2. Eat a wide variety of vegetables
So you’ll eat carrots, beets and cucumbers and that’s it. Okay. But if you want to unlock your true longevity potential — and lower your risk of everything from cardiovascular disease to macular degeneration — you need to regularly cycle through the whole menu: cruciferous veggies, dark leafy greens, edible plant stems, roots and marrows.
3. Eat until 80% full
Hara hachi bu is a Japanese saying that translates to “Eat until you’re 80% full.” It’s an alien concept in America, where portion sizes are the biggest in the world and somehow getting larger. But finding your “slightly full” will directly reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease or stroke while giving your body more energy and less bloating in the short term.
4. Eat home-cooked family dinners
As the godfather of nouvelle cuisine, Chef Fernard Point, once famously said: “Butter! Give me butter! Always butter!” Restaurants want customers to leave happy, so they use lots of flavor — salt, sugar and fat. It all adds up. According to one study, eating out twice a day increases your chance of an early death by 95%. Cooking is your best bet.
5. Embrace complex carbohydrates
The bread aisle is a starting point for understanding the difference between foods rich in simple carbohydrates (Wonder Bread) and those rich in complex carbohydrates (100% whole-wheat breads). The latter, for instance, rocks a ton of fiber and fuels the body in a sustainable way. Seek out more complex carbs like brown rice, oats and barley.
6. Consider a plant-based diet
You don’t have to give up meat. But you should know that societies full of centenarians don’t eat very much of it. While meat dominates most American meals, it only appears in Blue Zone diets at a rate of five times a month, two ounces per serving. And when it does, it comes sourced from free-range animals that weren’t treated with hormones or antibiotics.
7. Substitute meat with fish
Keeping fish in the rotation not only takes pressure off your veggie cooking skills — it’s also a huge life-expectancy boon. One study found that “pesco-vegetarians” (who eat up to three ounces of fish daily) live longest, aided by omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. If you can, aim for non-farmed, mid-chain fish like trout, snapper and sardines.
8. Try not to eat just before bed
Your last meal of the day should be your smallest, and shouldn’t be eaten within three hours of heading to sleep. If you’re constantly pining for a huge dinner or bedtime snack, you’re probably not fueling properly throughout the day. It’s stress-eating dressed up as a reward, which leads to indigestion in the near term and weight gain over time.
9. Let yourself feel hunger
Don’t get bogged down with YouTube videos on “the right way to intermittently fast.” As renowned Harvard geneticist Dr. David Sinclair told us: “We don’t know the best method. We do know that if you’re never hungry, if you’re eating three meals a day and snacking in between, that’s the worst thing you can do. It switches off your body’s defenses.”
10. Eat dark chocolate
Most people have heard this one. Dark chocolate is no elixir on its own, but cacao tree seeds are part of a family of environmentally stressed plants that “activate longevity pathways in…
Read More:100 Ways to Live to 100: A Definitive Guide to Longevity Fitness