by Alexander Heyne

The Secret to Longevity

Ever since I was a kid, I was always curious about the secrets to longevity and what made people live to 100.  I mean, 100 is kind of a random number, but triple digits?! That’s pretty amazing – there must be some kind of secret.  Seeing as you usually hear that people’s grandparents die in their 70s or 80s I was totally intrigued by these long-lived peeps.

My great grandma, who I knew until I was about 10 years old, lived to her later 90′s, 97 or 98 — and I was still hanging out with her at that age talking about life. Unfortunately since I was so young, the only thing I remember was how creepy she was. She was really small. Really thin. And really veiny.

Anyway, as I got older I became more interested in longevity not because I actually wanted to live to 120, but because the kinds of people that live to 120 are the ones who usually enjoy an unprecedented quality of life throughout their lives.

The people who take good enough care of themselves to live to that ripe, old age, also suffer from a fraction (or none) of the health problems that plague the majority of people today.

For example when I was working in Fiji, I met a 79 near old man who was stronger than an ox. I was leading a hike and this guy took a tumble down a huge hill full of rocks and sharp stones, so I was freaking out thinking I killed the poor dude.  I ran down to help him up and he threw me off him and said “What do I look like, an old man?”

When I later asked him how he was still so fit, he said it wasn’t anything special. “I’ve just been exercising basically my entire life. You can stay remarkably fit if you just stay active.” Like many things in life, there were no secrets.

Many of the people who live to that ripe old age don’t suffer from the same heart attacks, cancer, or stress-related illnesses that the rest of us do. They’re doing something different. And that’s why I became so curious.

Interestingly enough, as I researched the “secrets to their longevity” I found much of the same advice, over and over.

You can find that advice below.

23 People That Lived to 100 Share Their Secrets

Secret to Longevity

#1 Jeanne Calment, 122

Based on her Wikipedia entry,  at age 85, she took up fencing and continued to ride her bicycle up until her 100th birthday. She was reportedly neither athletic, nor fanatical about her health.

Calment lived on her own until shortly before her 110th birthday, when it was decided that she needed to be moved to a nursing home after a cooking accident (she was having complications with sight) started a small fire in her house.

Calment smoked from the age of 21 to 117, though according to an unspecified source, she smoked no more than two cigarettes per day. (Damn babygirl you smoked for 100 years?!) 

Calment ascribed her longevity and relatively youthful appearance for her age to olive oil, which she said she poured on all her food and rubbed onto her skin, as well as a diet of port wine, and ate nearly one kilogram (2.2 lb) of chocolate every week.

Not a bad life, eh? Smoke, drink and eat chocolate.

#2 Sarah Knauss, 119

Based on biographical information via Wikipedia:

Her only child, Kathryn Knauss Sullivan, who was 96 at the time of Sarah’s death and lived to be 101 herself, once explained Knauss’ longevity by saying: “She’s a very tranquil person and nothing fazes her. That’s why she’s living this long.”

#3 Christian Mortensen, 115

On his 115th birthday Mortensen gave his advice for a long life: “Friends, a good cigar, drinking lots of good water, no alcohol, staying positive and lots of singing will keep you alive for a long time.”

#4 Emiliano Mercado Del Toro, 115

He credited his longevity to funche, a boiled corn, codfish and milk cream-like dish, which he ate every day as a habit. Mercado also claimed that his sense of humor was probably responsible for his long life, and he would tell jokes and humorous anecdotes almost to the end of his days.

He would not elaborate on details of his love life, but would humorously hint about them: in one of the many interviews he gave to Puerto Rican media, Mercado claimed to have been at the “dancing club” (a euphemism for a bordello) owned by Isabel la Negra the day she was assassinated.

He was 82 years old at the time and reportedly hid under a table when Oppenheimer’s killers started firing gunshots. Asked what he was doing there, he said: “praying… or at least I was when the bullets started flying!”


Secret to Longevity

Besse Cooper, 116

“Mind your own business and don’t eat junk food. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated, work hard and love what you do.”

Bel Kaufman, 101

Laughter keeps you healthy. You can survive by seeing the humor in everything. Thumb your nose at sadness; turn the tables on tragedy. You can’t laugh and be angry, you can’t laugh and feel sad, you can’t laugh and feel envious.

Anthony Mancinelli, 101

Do the right thing, don’t smoke, don’t drink, eat right and don’t overdo it. If you need a little extra help, take some vitamins. Going to work is what keeps me going.

Ruth Gruber, 101

Look inside your soul and find your tools. We all have tools and have to live with the help of them. I have two tools, my words and my images. I used my typewriter, computer and my cameras to fight injustice. Whenever I see a possibility of helping people who are in danger, I want to help them.

Secret to Longevity

Dr. Laila Denmark, 114

Eat right and do what you love. Whatever you love to do is play; doing what you don’t like to do is work. I have never worked a day in my life!

Bonita Zigrang, 108

Have a good appetite, lots of friends, and keep busy.

Benjamin Goldfaden, 99

Stay active… even at 100. Eat in a balanced way… Don’t stay mad at anything–you have to get used to the losses, otherwise you can’t win. Lastly, stay close with your family, they keep you thinking.

Samuel Ball, 102

Have a good wife, two scotches a night, and be easy-going.

Irving Kahn, 106

It is very important to have a widespread curiosity about life.

Secret to Longevity

Helen Mulligan, 101

Take it easy, enjoy life, what will be will be. Sleep well, have a Bailey’s Irish Cream before bed if you have a cold–you will wake up fine the next morning.

Ebby Halliday, 101

Don’t smoke, don’t drink, and don’t retire!

Gilbert Herrick, 100

Take one day at a time and go along with the tide.

Secret to Longevity

Lillian Modell, 100

Keep busy! Do things that you’ve never done before.

Gussie Levine, 100

Don’t fight the day, just let it be. Get up and be positive. Avoid any and all drama; I don’t get involved with silly minutiae or difficult personalities; people respect me for that.

Jennie Cascone, 100

Be good, don’t complain, just get up and do. Keep on working, keep on going, and have a good time.

Murray Shusterman, 100

Get involved. You’ll find pleasure and sometimes disappointment but there is a sense of achievement if you participate in a successful undertaking, whether it is organizational or professional. Work hard, it will pay off.

Loretta Hodge, 102

Whatever is hard, you make hard, but if you take it as it comes, it doesn’t come hard. Don’t worry, don’t want so much, and be satisfied with what you’ve got. Be willing to share with your friends and those less fortunate.

Secret to Longevity

Miriam Henson, 105

You must keep active or you will just wither away. Always be involved in some activity.

Barbara Brody, 102

You have to make the best out of your life and have a good attitude.

Winifred Thomas, 101

When you live for God, talk to him, go to church, have nice people around you; that is the best medicine. God provides for you. Sometimes you don’t know when it is coming, but it is coming.

Secret to Longevity

Honorable Mentions (95+)

Hilda Berner, 97

Try to understand the kind of person you are and accept who you are; but if you want to improve your situation, change it. Keep your eye on the stars and try to succeed at what you want to do.

Irving Ladimer, 96

For a long, healthy life, you need a plan and a purpose. It could be family, writing a book, becoming president. Without a purpose, plan or objective, what do you need?

Alyse Laemmle, 96

Never run out of responsibility; if you don’t have one, find one. Find a cause and knock yourself out for it. It will enhance your brainpower, interest in life, and keep you alive longer. I’m alert because I work. Virtue is its own reward.

Gardner Watts – 98

My longevity is attributed to my long happy marriage. We did everything together. She was perfect in my eyes.

Secret to Longevity

The Secrets Behind All of These Long-Living People Are Surprisingly The Same

You know what’s cool?

There are definitely a few things repeated over and over.

I went back through the list and wrote down the top 5 things that appeared the most frequently. Do you know what they were?

The most commonly cited things:

  1. Keep a calm mind – Stay calm and relaxed and don’t let your feathers get ruffled. This  is the same advice the supposedly 256 year old Li Ching Yuen said, in addition to his three other secrets.
  2. Don’t retire- Stay curious about life, do work you love, and continue to do activities and participate in the community.
  3. Eating right and staying active (traditional longevity)
  4. Friends, social networks, and family – One of the longest running Harvard studies of all time follow men from college to the present day. George Vaillant commented that [in regard to happiness and life satisfaction] “There is 70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in this world.”
  5. Have a hell of a good time – Just a general love for life, a constant curiosity and desire to learn, grow and live

What About You?

I think that many of us intuitively know some of the things that contribute to a long life, like relaxing and enjoying life, keeping your mind busy, and obviously eating right and exercising.

One of the craziest things I’ve come across in the past few years is that some people have willed themselves to death. In extreme survival situations, people have been found in safe, secure places, with food and water, who simply gave up. Sometimes there was a journal, but other times these people had no verifiable medical reason for their death. They just didn’t want to fight.

The external is seriously overrated in our society –  people seem to neglect the power of the mind to make a person happy or miserable, successful or unsuccessful, lazy or driven.

The oldest woman in the world smoked every day for almost 100 years. Was she lucky? Maybe.

But listen to all of these people talk — they just freaking love life. “A good cigar, a glass of wine, some chocolate, and good friends.” They’re living the good life – no wonder they want to go on living.

So what about you? Do you know anyone who lived to a ripe-old age? What do you think contributed to it?


Sources: Some adapted from the book Extraordinary Centenarians in America.

Other quotes were compiled from interviews listed in Wikipedia.