Science-Backed Ways to Live to 100

Science-Backed Ways to Live to 100

Live to see a century by adopting these habits.

While most of us might want to live to 100 and beyond, it’s very rare to do so—but some people have figured out how. They live in places called Blue Zones, where people live to 100 nearly 10 times more often than people in the United States. These Blue Zones are spread throughout the world, but share some surprising similarities.

Move naturally
People in Blue Zones find ways to move more throughout their day-to-day lives. They may not actively seek out exercise, but they’re active nonetheless. You, too, can almost always find ways to move a bit more throughout the day, whether it’s taking the dog for a longer walk, parking a little farther away from the store or getting off the bus or subway one stop early on your way to work.

Even if you’re getting extra movement throughout the day, don’t neglect the benefits of exercise. Getting the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise can reduce your risk of death by 31 percent. Even getting less than the recommended minimum can lower the mortality risk by 20 percent. A 2016 study of more than 80,000 people published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that swimming, racquet sports like tennis and racquetball, aerobics and cycling are associated a lower risk of death by any cause.

Eat wisely
The Blue Zones way of eating has three principles: A plant-based diet, moderate alcohol consumption and eating until you’re about 80 percent full. A 2008 study of more than 3,000 people, published in BMJ, found that those who say they ate quickly and until they were completely full were three times more likely to be overweight. Even moderate obesity can knock three years off your life, while severe obesity can reduce lifespan by as much as ten years, according to a University of Oxford study.

A 2013 study of more than 73,000 Seventh-Day Adventists—who live on average 10 years longer than other North Americans and are concentrated in Blue Zone Loma Linda, California—suggests that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death by any cause by about 12 percent compared to non-vegetarians. Being vegan or adding fish to a vegetarian diet reduces that even more.

Moderate alcohol intake is commonly thought to bring longevity benefits. A 2014 study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition says that a “Mediterranean” way of drinking—moderate wine consumption, usually with food—increases longevity and reduces the risk of heart disease, the US’s number one disease killer. However, a 2016 systematic review and meta analysis of 87 studies called into question the benefits of moderate alcohol, saying that the studies suffered from design flaws and moderate alcohol is no more beneficial than abstaining or occasional drinking.

Sense of community
If you want to live longer, you can’t do it in isolation, according to the people in Blue Zones. A strong sense of community is essential. Most of the Blue Zones interviewees belonged to some faith-based community, and a 2016 study of nearly 75,000 women published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that attending religious service at least once per week can cut mortality risk by a third.

You help yourself if you help others, according to a December 2016 study published in Evolution and Human Behavior. The study looked at more than 500 people between the ages of 70 and 103, and found that grandparents who helped take care of their grandchildren were more than one-third less likely to die than others. The effect extended out to non-grandparents and to older adults who helped others in their communities. 

It’s also important to surround yourself with like-minded people living healthy lifestyles. Analyses of the long-running Framingham Heart Study have found that behaviors such as happiness, obesity, loneliness and even divorce are contagious. If you’re around fit, healthy, happy people, you may have a better chance of staying fit, healthy and happy yourself.

Find your purpose (but don’t stress over it)
The longest-lived people take time to unwind, according to Blue Zones. Chronic stress can shorten your lifespan, and managing it is one of the keys to a long and healthy life. Exercising, getting enough sleep and having social support can all help reduce stress, as can relaxation and mindfulness techniques like meditation, yoga or tai chi.

Finally, people in Blue Zones wake up each day with a purpose. A 2015 study published in Developmental Psychology looked at nearly 1,500 older people and found that those with a high sense of purpose had lower levels of disability, did better on cognitive tests, had better self-reported health scores and fewer symptoms of depression. Not sure where to start? Do something for someone else. Generosity can help beat stress and can cut your risk of disease.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

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