People today live longer than they did in the past, but reaching the 100-year mark is still an achievement. While centenarians may owe their longevity mostly to good genes and robust constitutions, when a 100-plus-year-old person gives you advice on living a good (long) life, you should probably listen.
German researcher and psychologist Dagmara Wosniak studied 56 centenarians in Heidelberg, 82% of whom depended on nurses for support. Her research found that being optimistic and outgoing, and maintaining a social life with friends and family helped these older people stay happy even if they had health issues.
Gertrude Weaver, a centenarian originally from Texas, stays close to family and friends and believes that her strong religious beliefs and lifelong commitment to kindness have kept her living longer.
Jeralean Talley, a centenarian born in Michigan, says her longevity stems in part from her adherence to the golden rule, but her family members also credit her fun-loving personality.
Talley's daughter says fun activities such as fishing, bowling, and playing the slot machines at casinos have kept her mother enjoying a long life.
Weaver also enjoys wheelchair dancing three times a week at her nursing home since she can't dance on her feet these days.
Louis Charpentier, a centenarian from Leominster, MA, told reporters that staying active in his community and keeping up with his hobbies have led to a long and healthy life.
Misao Okawa, a Japanese centenarian, says exercise is one secret to living longer. In fact, she was still doing squats at 102.
The Okinawa islands in Japan are renowned for being home to an above-average number of centenarians (in 2010 there were 34 centenarians per 100,000 residents, compared to a standard of 19 to 20 in developed nations). While researchers acknowledge that genes play a role in this phenomenon, the Okinawans' low-calorie diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, and fiber helps, as does their aversion to smoking.
Okawa says she eats three large meals a day and loves sushi.
Carmelo Flores Laura, a centenarian from Bolivia, says the traditional diet of the Andes mountain region and walking to herd his cattle and sheep have kept him healthy. He eats quinoa, mushrooms, mutton, and potatoes, plus pork on occasion. He also chews coca leaves (the raw material for cocaine, coca leaves are a mild stimulant traditionally consumed in the Andes) and drinks springwater that flows from the Andes.
Another centenarian, Leandra Becerra Lumbreras from Mexico, says she eats chocolate, beans, tortillas, and milk--as she has her whole life.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the adage that a healthy diet is the most important way to live a long life. Jose Aguinelo dos Santos, a centenarian from Brazil, has smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for the past 50 years, eats four meals a day, and says there's no secret to living a long life--he just happened to keep living. He does, however, enjoy singing songs from his youth.
Susannah Mushatt Jones, born in 1899 in Alabama and now living in Brooklyn, never smoked and never drank alcohol, but she doesn't stick to a prescribed diet full of fruits and vegetables--her favorite foods are barbecued chicken and bacon. Jones is known within her family for her generosity, having put multiple family members through college, but she has always indulged herself a little too, buying lace lingerie at Bloomingdale's.
Emma Morano, an Italian centenarian, says her daily glass of homemade brandy contributes to her longevity, but she also sleeps well, drinks milk, and eats two eggs every day--one raw and one cooked.
Several centenarians say sleeping well helped them live longer, but everyone's definition of a good sleep is different. Lumbreras occasionally sleeps as long as three days at a time in her old age, but Okawa says eight hours a night work for her. Morano goes to bed before 7 p.m. and gets up at 6 a.m. every day.
Nicholas Pierro, a centenarian from Jacksonville, FL, credits his longevity to being debt-free for most of his life. He says he once had a mortgage for seven years but otherwise has enjoyed the peace of mind of always living within his means.