8 Surprising Strategies for Becoming a Centenarian

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If you want to live to 100 and beyond, try these expert-recommended tips for longevity.

Want Willard Scott (or his eventual successor) to wish you a happy 100th birthday? Hang in there—there’s a good chance you’ll get your moment in the spotlight.

It’s becoming more and more common for individuals to live to 100 or longer. In fact, researchers say that more than a third of all babies now born in wealthy nations are likely to reach their 100th birthdays, thanks to innovations in medical diagnosis and treatment. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not a newborn, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hit that mark, too. Here are some of the best strategies for hitting the 100-year mark.

1. Eat your veggies and nuts, and skimp on steak. A study of Seventh Day Adventists—who stick to a strictly vegetarian diet—found that those who eat primarily vegetables gained an extra year and a half over meat-eaters; those who ate nuts regularly added two more years on top of that. And in Okinawa, Japan, which boasts a high number of centenarians, residents eat up to 10 servings of veggies each day.

2. Make flesh-and-blood friends. A Brigham Young University study found that people with strong social networks (real ones, not just Facebook) were 50 percent less likely to die over a certain time period. If you don’t have many friends or relatives in your local community, get involved in volunteering, or participate in a hobby group on a site like Meetup.com. The connections you build will help you stay happy and healthy.

3. Drink (but just a bit). Do you love to unwind with a glass of red wine at the end of a rough day? You’re in luck: Moderate drinkers live the longest, according to a study by University of Texas Austin and Stanford University. Heavy drinkers were 45 percent more likely to perish over the course of the 20-year study, and, surprisingly, non-drinkers were 51 percent more likely. The study couldn’t account for why heavy drinkers lived longer than teetotalers, but, given that drinking is generally a social activity, it may have a lot to do with the previous point.

4. Survive a recession. As we noted in a previous article, a country’s death rate typically goes down during a recession. Most economists believe that happens because people without much spare cash tend to cut back on luxuries, which might include not-so-good-for-you things like cigarettes, steaks, and high-calorie desserts.

5. Don’t smoke. Yes, this is a no-brainer, but it’s important: With occasional exceptions (calling George Burns), smokers die younger than non-smokers. Even if you’ve had a pack-a-day habit for decades, quitting will help your health substantially: Within a decade you’ll have halved your chances of getting lung cancer. It’s important to get your loved ones to kick the habit, too: A Greek study found that people who inhaled secondhand smoke for half an hour a day, three times a week, were 26 percent more likely to get heart disease than those who rarely socialized with smokers.

6. Make sure you find the right person to partner with, or go it alone. Conventional wisdom has it that married people live longer than singles, but according to a huge new study recounted in the new book The Longevity Project, that’s only true to a certain point: Marriage or long-term companionship can benefit both partners’ health when the couple has a happy marriage. However, the book’s author, Howard S. Friedman, told The Atlantic, “women who got rid of their troublesome husbands stayed healthy—most women, it seemed, can rely on their friends and other social ties. Men who got and stayed divorced, on the other hand, were at really high risk for premature mortality. It would have been better had they not married at all.”

7. Improve your lifestyle. Along with healthy eating, focus on stress management, regular exercise, and building healthy relationships. “When you eat healthier, manage stress, exercise and love more, your brain actually gets more blood flow and more oxygen,” says Dean Ornish, leader of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, in a recent TED Talk. Remarkably, such lifestyle modifications can halt cancer in its tracks and reverse tumor growth: Ornish found that, in a study of subjects who made such changes, tumor growth stopped in 70 percent of the people who made such changes, versus just nine percent in the comparison group.

8. Maintain a sense of purpose. Dan Buettner, author of the book about longevity, The Blue Zones, found that one common trait in communities with many centenarians was that older people still participated in daily life, through tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and gardening. “The centenarians feel the motivation to stay active, to get out of bed in the morning, and live for a purpose,” Buettner told CNN.