Lessons on aging from the oldest people in the world: Eat your veggies, avoid toxic people, move your body and more

This 117-year-old woman swears by
This 117-year-old woman swears by "staying away from toxic people." The world's oldest man says to "work hard." What other longevity lessons can supercentenarians teach us? (Getty Images)

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that life expectancy in the United States rose to 77.5 years in 2022, though it still has not reached pre-pandemic levels. Some people, both in the U.S. and around the world, go on to live well past that — reaching their 110th birthday and beyond. They're called supercentenarians, and their habits can teach us a lot about aging and longevity, experts say.

What has kept the oldest people in the world going, and what can we learn from them? Read on to get their lifestyle secrets — from prioritizing spirituality to eating produce — along with input from health experts on which ones are worth trying for ourselves.

Cultivate positive relationships — and avoid toxic people

Born in San Francisco in 1907, supercentenarian Maria Branyas, who currently lives in Spain, turned 117 earlier this month. Branyas is recognized by Guinness World Records as being the oldest validated living person in the world. She’s also among the oldest people known to have survived COVID-19, which she had in April 2020. When asked what contributes to her longevity, Branyas credited "order, tranquility, good connection with family and friends, contact with nature, emotional stability, no worries, no regrets, lots of positivity and staying away from toxic people."

Connecting with friends and family is critical for longevity, Nathan Price, chief scientific officer at Thorne HealthTech and co-author of The Age of Scientific Wellness: Why the Future of Medicine Is Personalized, Predictive, Data-Rich, and in Your Hands, tells Yahoo Life. But you want to be conscious of the kind of people you’re associating with. “Positive social connections were found to be the strongest predictor of a longer life, as well as a greater sense of well-being,” notes Price, pointing to one of the longest-running studies on happiness out of Harvard.

Eat (and maybe even grow) your veggies

In February, 114-year-old Elizabeth Francis of Houston became the oldest living person in the U.S. According to a profile by Today, Francis — born in 1909, when President William Howard Taft was in the White House — never smoked or drank alcohol, took regular walks until her early 90s and always had a little garden in her backyard where she grew her own vegetables, including collard greens, mustard greens, carrots and okra.

“Home gardening and the consumption of fresh vegetables ... provide the body with essential nutrients, antioxidants and fiber that are crucial for maintaining health,” Diogo Barardo, a longevity researcher and director of research and development at anti-aging supplement brand NOVOS, tells Yahoo Life. “These practices promote a diet rich in plant-based foods, which has been associated with lower risks of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and certain cancers.” At the same time, gardening is a physical activity that can improve strength, flexibility and mental well-being, all of which contribute to a healthier, longer life, says Barardo.

Move more

Japan’s oldest known living person, Tomiko Itooka, is coming up on her 116th birthday on May 23. Itooka has prioritized physical activity throughout her life, from playing volleyball as a student to trekking as a senior. According to the Gerontology Research Group, Itooka was in her 80s when she participated in the Osaka 33 Kannon Pilgrimage — a pilgrimage to 33 Buddhist temples — twice. At 100, she reportedly climbed the long stone steps of Ashiya Shrine without a cane.

Maddy Dychtwald, co-founder of the aging-focused group Age Wave and co-author of Ageless Aging: A Woman’s Guide to Increasing Healthspan, Brainspan and Lifespan, tells Yahoo Life she thinks of exercise as “a silver bullet for longevity.” “Regular movement of all kinds can lower your biological age as well as reduce your risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis,” the author says. “In addition, exercise can boost your mood and reduce the risk of sarcopenia, [which is] loss of muscle mass.” While Itooka’s ambitious adventures are admirable at any age, Dychtwald adds that “regular movement can even mean doing chores such as vacuuming, emptying the dishwasher.”

Embrace spirituality — however that looks for you

Born in 1908 in Brazil, Ina Canabarro Lucas, aka “Sister Inah,” is 115 years old and currently the oldest known living person in Latin America and the oldest living nun, according to the Gerontology Research Group. Currently residing in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, Lucas credits her longevity ​​to God.

Although Lucas has been a nun for nearly 100 years, spirituality of all kinds can be a superpower for those who embrace it, says Dychtwald. “It gives them a strong sense of purpose and a feeling of connection to others and a power greater than themselves,” she notes. “Having a strong sense of purpose and meaning can add years to your life. It can also help you manage negative stress and help you feel more resilient, which helps you to live better longer.”

Barardo agrees, adding, “Spirituality has been shown to contribute positively to longevity and quality of life by aiding in the healing of diseases, helping the elderly cope with stress and enhancing overall well-being.”

Work hard

Venezuelan supercentenarian Juan Vicente Pérez Mora — who will turn 115 years old on May 27 — is the second-oldest Latin American and oldest living man in the world. According to a 2022 profile by Guinness World Records, Pérez Mora credits his long life to this: “Work hard, rest on holidays, go to bed early [and] drink a glass of aguardiente [a strong liquor made from sugarcane], love God and always carry him in your heart."

Although work is often thought of as a root cause of stress, there’s a plus side, as well. “[Pérez Mora] has prioritized work which, for many, provides a strong sense of purpose,” says Dychtwald. “Purpose is one of the key ingredients I identify in Ageless Aging as part of a holistic plan for increasing health span, brain span and life span. In fact, a lack of purpose has been linked to shorter health spans and life spans.”