Blowing out 100 birthday candles is more possible than ever. According to the U.S. National Institute on Aging, we're on the brink of a watershed moment in history. Quite soon, there will be more people on Earth who are 65 than 5.
And longevity is reaching new records. The oldest documented woman alive today is 116—this means she was 45 years old during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 73 years old when the first man walked on the moon, and already 93 when the Berlin Wall fell.
So what does it take to live to 100? According to study conducted by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, it's mostly a matter of genes. But science is also showing that even small efforts toward taking care of our health, such as exercise and diet, can have a striking effect on how long we live.
But what about quality of life after 100? We've gone around the U.S. to find centenarians who are showing us the way. Our centenarians offered great insight. This advice might not be anything we've not heard before, but it takes on deeper meaning when it's from those who have lived long enough and well enough to know what they're talking about.
Now, meet the Centarians!
Ruth Schmidt Climer
After graduating from the University of Cincinnati during the Depression years, Ruth enjoyed a career as a physical education teacher. She and her husband competed in the Senior Olympics, and she has recently been honored for starting a scholarship in memory of her husband, whom everyone knew as "Sonny" and who was a beloved and respected P.E. teacher as well.
"I Like to Get out in the Fresh Air Every Day"
Ruth's days at Sutton Grove Retirement Community are packed. "I always look forward to getting the mail. I do a lot of correspondence to stay in touch with family and friends. I also love playing bingo and casino. I don't want to stay cooped up in my apartment all day long -- I like to get out and see folks."
"Don't Dwell on the Tough Times"
Ruth chooses to focus on "what's good right now." She refuses to give in to negative thoughts. Her advice is to "think about when things were normal." She has decided that the best thing she can do is to stay busy. "You just have to keep moving forward."
"Try Not to Think About It! Just Let Life Come"
"I like people and outdoors, corresponding, and my home. I have to remember that those who have gone on are in peace. They're released and in better hands, and that brings me comfort."
Hershey's Kisses and Peanut Butter Top Her List
Ruth says she no longer has a big appetite, so she eats whatever she wants. "Oh, I have a little wine once in a while . . . and I do like Hershey's Kisses. Wendy's Frosties are a real treat -- and I love peanut butter!"
On Turning 100
Ruth enjoyed a big celebration, but she found it a little overwhelming -- something many of our centenarians shared. "I received cards from all over the country. It was really wonderful connecting with so many folks I've known over the years." Ruth lives in her own one-bedroom apartment at Sutton Grove. The community offers assisted living services, but she only needs help showering.
Anything She'd Change?
"I'd have children. I couldn't, but I wish I could have."
Françoise Desneige Marquis
Françoise—who normally goes by Frances—says her key to getting through life's tough times is to trust that what will be, will be. "I try to hold on to the good times," she says. "I have my rosary I keep next to my bed, and I sit in the same rocking chair I've had since my first child [which she lost]. When I rock and reflect, I get a sense of peace ... You just have to move forward. That's all any of us can do."
"Be With Good Company—and Eat Well!"
Frances makes it a point to exercise every day. She does lots of housework and she loves to dance. What's her secret for making it to 101? "You just have to stay busy." She also enjoys an afternoon treat: "My coffee-syrup and milk [a Rhode Island tradition]. It's like a coffee-shake."
"I Wake up Each Day and Just Get Busy"
Frances still enjoys the occasional sweet, but one of her secrets to staying so healthy is that she eats her heavier protein-based meal for lunch and enjoys a light chicken soup and fresh bread in the evening. Her daughter, Michelle, makes the soup ahead of time and freezes dinner-size portions. "My mom is one of the healthiest eaters I know," Michelle says. Michelle also makes sure to pamper her mom. "I do her hair twice a week, and I apply a little make up before we go out. She gets all the latest face products. It makes her feel pretty, and I'm glad I can do that for her."
The Best Thing About Turning 100?
"That I can still walk around and do whatever I want. I even danced at my birthday party!"
"I Don't Have Any Regrets!"
"I grew up in Canada, just outside Montreal. I had 10 brothers and sisters. My sister is 102. We moved to the U.S. when I was 12. I married at 29 but didn't have children for 10 years. We lived in Rhode Island, and now I'm with my daughter in St. Augustine, Florida. It's beautiful here. I played tennis for years, and we used to all jump into the back of a pickup truck and go dancing every Saturday night. I've had a good life."
"What Do I Look Forward to? Visitors? My daughter, Martha, comes to take care of me every day, and I get Meals on Wheels. They are so wonderful to me. My church family and priest visit often, so I'm always surrounded." Dona Rosa speaks Spanish, so her daughter translates for me. "Another thing I love to do is to watch baseball. I yell, 'Go, go, go!' at the television as loud as I can!"
"When I Face Tough Times, I Think of My Grandmother"
Dona Rosa grew up in Panama. Her mother died when she was seven, and her grandmother held the family together. "That's how I try to be -- like my grandmother. She was strong and courageous, and it's as if she's guiding me. I also pray every day. I talk to Him like He's in the room with me."
"I'm Not Going to Give up My Coffee!"
"I try to cut down on my sugar, I don't want diabetes, but I'm not going to give up my coffee." She loves soup (tomato is her favorite), and she tells her daughter to make sure to serve it with some hot, fresh bread and butter. "I tell her, 'That's a lot of butter, Mama,' and she says, 'I don't care, that's how I like it!'" says Martha.
Next Birthday: 104
Dona Rosa celebrated her 100th birthday with her church family and again at her home at Taylor Residence in Jacksonville, Florida. "We had a big cake and lots of decorations. My mother was so pleased," says Martha. "She danced and danced. We're going to have to celebrate big when she turns 104 next April."
"Forgive. You Have to Forgive."
Dona Rosa leaves us with one important message: "Love each other and forgive. Just let go. If you don't forgive, it's very sad, and you won't have peace in your heart."
When it comes to facing life's hardships, Louise has always tried to focus on prayer and meditation. "Somewhere along the way I just decided to be content. Positive thinking really helps."
"I Don't Have a Clue How I Made It to 100, Except to Be Positive"
Louise has one aunt who lived to 100, so she doesn't know if good genes factor into her longevity. "I just get up every day and expect to keep going."
"I Admit, I Have a Bit of a Sweet Tooth"
Louise gave up smoking in her late 80s and says it really wasn't that hard to break such a bad habit. "I now love desserts. Cakes and pies and cookies. Living at Fleet Landing Retirement Community in Atlantic Beach means there are always good treats on hand. I have my own apartment and I love to cook! It's fun."
Birthdays Are Spent With Family
Birthdays are for families, whatever family you have, by birth or friends or your community. Louise enjoys her special days with her sons. "There's nothing like looking forward to seeing their faces."
"One Always Has Challenges"
When asked about regrets, Louise takes her time. "Not really. Some challenges I had were difficult, but they were character-building. I may not choose to go through them again, but I learned something. Learn from your challenges; it builds character."
Bill checks the stock market every day. He enjoyed a long career as a stock broker, and he still follows the market every day. "I can't help it, it's in my blood! I also make sure I exercise, and I enjoy reading the paper. That's important at any age, especially at 103!"
Tough Times? "I Just Might Run!"
How does Bill tackle tough times? "Oh, I suppose having a good attitude helps. I've always done the best I can with the knowledge and resources available. But when life gets hard -- and you never know when -- I just might run!"
It's Wise to Find a Good Doctor
What does Bill suggest to those who hope to make their 100th birthday? "Find a good doctor, and eat a careful diet. I really believe in exercising as much as possible -- and stick to a healthy routine." Bill hits the workout room almost every day where he lives at Carriage Club, Brookdale Senior Living in Jacksonville, Florida. "And avoid smoking cigarettes!"
Vices? "Don't Go Overboard—I Try Not to Avoid Anything in Particular"
Bill believes in moderation. He still enjoys a glass of wine and a good dessert. "The only thing I stay away from is low-grade meat."
Turning 100 Can Be Stressful
Bill enjoyed four parties the year he turned 100. "You get a lot of attention. I actually had a small stroke afterward -- I think I overdid it!" Nothing's really changed since he's turned 90, Bill says, "but I do get interviewed a lot. "
"I'd Love to Go Back"
"If I could know then what I know now, I'd love to go back and be 20 all over again," Bill says, sitting back and smiling. He says luck plays a big part in making it to 100. "So I guess I've been pretty lucky."
What does Kitty look forward to? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner! "Every night when I lay my head on my pillow, I look forward to waking up the next day. It's not necessarily the big things that matter the most. You never know what's going to happen next. I look forward to my family coming to see me."
"It's Prayer That Keeps Me Steady"
Kitty believes in prayer to get through. "I use prayer when I don't know what to do, when I need it, and I need it every day."
Serve Other People
Kitty served as a volunteer at Baptist Medical Hospital in downtown Jacksonville for more than 50 years. She's a charter member and had two terms as president of the auxiliary. "Nothing takes your mind off your own troubles like serving someone else. There's always someone who's hurting more than you." Kitty reminds us that there are many people and helping organizations that need our service.
"I've Always Eaten Whatever I Wanted!"
Kitty says that if you stay busy, you can eat whatever you like. "I adore cakes and pies," she says, "especially banana cream."
"The Older I Get, the More Plainspoken I Get"
Kitty's known around Carriage Club, Brookdale Senior Living for saying exactly what's on her mind. "Now that I've turned 100, folks treat me with such kindness. They open the doors for me -- if they're able -- but I'm just about as able as they are!"
"I Think We'd All Change Something"
"I try not to regret anything, but I have a few times I'd like to go back and do right." Kitty looks out her window and takes in a deep breath. "But we can't go back, can we? We have to make peace with what we have, and I think I've done that. I really love my life."
Dorris T. O'Dell
Dorris enjoys a close relationship with her caregiver, Judy, at Marion Woods in Ocala, Florida. "I look forward to seeing her smile coming through that door in the morning, and what I enjoy most are my meals. I never deprived myself of anything"
The Toughest Times Are When You Lose Someone You Love
"Losing my father was one of the hardest blows in all my life. He took such good care of us kids. We always had plenty to eat and clothes to wear. He died too young. I took care of my in-laws for 28 years and that was tough. Does that count?" Dorris gives a wink.
Bacon? You Bet!
"I used to drink Scotch, and we went to a lot of dances and parties. Man, was that fun! I ate bacon, drank and swore, and ate all the chocolate I wanted."
"I Still Have My Memories"
Dorris is happy that she can still remember all the way back to her childhood. Even at 102, she has her eyesight and hearing (with the help of a hearing aid), and a great appetite. "I've lived a good long life. I was married to Dewitt H. O'Dell for 66 years. That's almost a record these days."
Wouldn't Change a Thing
Dorris says it's best not to worry about regrets. "I try to live each moment. I've been so blessed. I had good parents and a long marriage, and I still have my health. I have a good place to stay and good food. Life couldn't be better."