How to live happily past 100, according to 7 of the world's oldest people

Old woman close up.
Centenarians say there are six key things that could help you live to 100 and beyond.real444/Getty Images
  • Today's centenarians grew up in a different world but their longevity advice is still relevant.

  • Seven centenarians shared their tips for living a long, happy life.

  • Their tips for living past 100 include keeping busy, doing things in moderation, and having hobbies.

Today's centenarians grew up in the 1910s and 1920s, when the world was a very different place.

The Jim Crow laws were still in place, World War II hadn't happened yet, and indoor toilets were a luxury.

But they have plenty of wisdom about making the most of life that's still relevant, particularly as younger people have a much higher chance of living to 100 than previous generations.

A healthy 30-year-old woman today has up to a 22% chance of living to 100, according to the Stanford Center on Longevity. In contrast, a woman born in 1920 had around a 2% chance of living to 100, according to actuary Mary Pat Campbell.

Business Insider has spoken to multiple 100+ year-olds, and while their longevity can likely be partly explained by genetics and luck, lifestyle factors can also play a huge role in healthy aging.

These centenarians all have different backgrounds but tend to give similar advice for living longer.

Uncle Jack drawing with a mug and some mostly-eaten dark chocolate in front of him.
Uncle Jack eats dark chocolate every day.Ask Uncle Jack

Eat well

Many centenarians believe that eating a diet rich in healthy, non-processed foods is key to a long life.

For instance, since they grew up before the popularization of ultra-processed foods and ready meals, both Jack Van Nordheim, a 100-year-old social media influencer who lives in Southern California, and 114-year-old Texan Elizabeth Francis, who is the oldest living American, eat mostly home-cooked meals made from whole foods.

Ben Meyers gives Elizabeth Francis her 'Oldest living Texan' plaque
Elizabeth Francis receiving her 'Oldest living Texan' plaque.Emmanuel Rodriguez, LongeviQuest

Van Nordheim ate plenty of fresh chicken because his family had a ranch, and Francis used to cook with collard greens, mustard greens, carrots, and okra she grew in her own backyard.

Centenarians in the world's Blue Zones, where people live to over 100 more often than in other populations, also tend to eat plenty of vegetables and whole foods.

One 2022 study suggested that switching from the "typical" Western diet to an optimal one — which consisted of whole grains, legumes, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and limited red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and refined grains — could add up to 10 years to people's life expectancies in the US.

Have a hobby

Not only did Van Nordheim grow up around animals, he also made them his life's passion, owning a monkey at one point and continuing to birdwatch today.

British 106-year-old Katie MacRae, meanwhile started gardening when she was 12 or 13, and has kept up the hobby for almost a century.

Centenarian Katie MacRae on her 106th birthday in the back of an old car, wearing a tiara.
Katie MacRae celebrating her 106th birthday.Bolton Clarke

A 2023 meta-analysis on 93,263 adults aged over 65 found links between engaging in hobbies, higher life expectancy, and an increase in self-reported health, happiness, and life satisfaction.

Stay active

A hobby with physical elements can be particularly beneficial. MacRae and 102-year-old Janet Gibbs, who lives in Australia, both play bowls at their care homes. Gibbs played golf until she was 86. And every morning, 100-year-old Joyce Preston, who's based in the UK, does gentle exercises such as yoga, and loves going for walks.

Janet Gibbs in a red cardigan.
Janet Gibbs enjoying herself at a Centenarian Club tea party.Bolton Clarke

Staying active into older age is great for longevity, and research shows that even short bursts of vigorous activity could extend your lifespan.

Spend time with friends and family

Von Nordheim is really close with his nephew, who takes care of him; Francis lives with her daughter; Gibbs has a friend who is a sprightly 92 who she thinks keeps her young; and Preston is kept busy by lots of friends.

These close relationships may have helped centenarians beat the odds to some extent. Research shows strong associations between having good social relationships and increased longevity.

Practice moderation

John Tinniswood, from the UK — who is currently the oldest living man at 111 years old — and Japanese Kane Taneka — who was the second oldest person in recorded history when he died at 119 in 2022 — both do everything in moderation.

Yumi Yamamoto, the Japan research president for LongeviQuest, an organization that validates the ages of the world's oldest people, previously told BI that Tanaka's habit of never doing anything to excess is common among Japanese supercentenarians.

Yumi Yamamoto whispering into the ear of Kikue Taira, the younger sister of the world's oldest ever pair of siblings
Yamamoto with Kikue Taira, the younger sister of the world's oldest ever pair of siblings.Nomoto Shunki, LongeviQuest

Find a sense of purpose

Many centenarians don't stop working until late in life, and even when they do, they tend to keep busy.

Francis does housework, MacRae is on committees at her care homes, Gibbs listens to audiobooks, and Van Nordheim is a social media star, writes books, and birdwatches.

Keeping your brain working and maintaining a sense of purpose is thought to be important for longevity. A 2019 study found a link between a higher sense of purpose and a lower risk of death, while a 2022 review of studies suggested that busier adults have better cognition and delayed onset of dementia.

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