How to Live to Be 100

You don’t have to be
a superhuman​ to live
longer and better

When someone celebrates their 100th birthday, a reporter typically asks, “What’s your secret to a long life?” We will hear every answer from, “Eat ice cream, to I drink wine, to run a mile every day.” In reality, the average life expectancy in America today is higher (now up to 78.6 years according to the CDC Health, United States, 2017 report ) than in any other period in history. It’s important to note that while we are living longer, in part to advances in medicine and technology, we could also be living better.

Cancer and heart disease are still the top two causes of death among (adults ages 45-64) Americans. Never smoking is the first “low-risk lifestyle factor” identified by researchers at Harvard University. Last year, they studied almost 30 years of data collected from over 120,000 patients. One plus: there has been a steady downward trend in smoking since 1965 when 42% of U.S. adults smoked. The target is to reduce the national prevalence of cigarette smoking among adults to 12% by next year. Researchers noted that life expectancy rates should have risen more due to the decline in tobacco use; however, that gain was counterbalanced by the high rate of people with poor diets and sedentary lifestyles. Exercising for 30-minutes a day, having a normal body mass index, and eating a healthy diet are the second, third, and fourth low-risk lifestyle factors targeted in the study. And with good reason, between 2013-2016, just over 70% of adults over the age of 20 were considered overweight, including 38.9% with obesity.

The 9 Factors To Living Longer

Dan Buettner is a National Geographic Fellow and multiple New York Times bestselling author. He has discovered five places in the world ­– dubbed Blue Zones – where people live the longest, and are healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California. In his TED Talk series, Buettner shares the nine evidence-based common denominators in the highest proportions of people who reach age 100. Dr. Kevin Woods, a Board-certified cardiologist with Capital Cardiology Associates, explained the history and significance of Blue Zone research. “Much of what I first read reinforced what I thought the scientific and medical literature stated was healthy and gave me more information to encourage my patients to have better outcomes. Also noteworthy, not only is their life expectancy longer, but their quality of life is better. In their later years in life, these people were still active and had fewer instances of chronic health issues.” Buettner’s TED Talk shows images of people well into their “golden years” still chopping woods, engaging in sports, enjoying an active life. One example was Ellsworth Wareham, a cardiothoracic surgeon from Loma Linda who “retired” at 74 but would still assist in operations at the age of 95.

The nine factors identified in healthy living seem simple to follow on the surface. Dr. Woods addresses two factors with his patients. “Having a sense of purpose was very important in these societies. Throughout life, there wasn’t a retirement age per se; people stayed active in their 90s and over 100. You don’t need a gym membership or treadmill for this lifestyle. It’s staying active, taking the steps, going up hills, walking instead of driving. Also, surround yourself with people who follow healthy habits.” That final point is vital. Beuttner calls it “The Right Tribe.” In his talk, he explains how positive friendships, like how Okinawans create small groups of five friends that commit to each other for life, shape healthy behaviors. “I’m sure we have all had workout buddies throughout the years that helped motivate us, likewise if you are going out to eat and you dine with people who are also mindful, it will be easier to keep those healthy habits,” said Dr. Woods.

Committing to Healthy Living

Dr. Woods expressed the challenge many of us face when making changes to our daily habits and structure. “Healthy living is a lifestyle. It’s not just exercise and nutrition; it is also support.” Currently, a handful of communities and States are urging their lawmakers to create laws that foster healthy policies. In February, California’s State Assembly proposed discouraging sugary beverages through measures including a soda tax and warning labels. This is the third time California lawmakers have considered the idea. Dr. Woods pointed to the connection to heart disease. “A 12 ounce can of soda has over 40 grams of sugar — that’s over ten teaspoons of sugar in one drink. Whether you are talking about refined carbohydrates: white bread, pasta, rice, simple sugars added to soft drinks, or sugar substitutes — they all have a variety of ill-effects. One is increasing your insulin, which can cause weight gain, hypertension, or plaque to build up in the arteries. I think people don’t realize how unhealthy these ‘little things’ are sometimes.”

In Blue Zones, there is no need for public health policy. Loma Linda’s grocery stores have bins of beans and grains, but no meat section. Their McDonald’s advertises veggie burgers. Neighborhood kids sell fresh fruits. Families participate in sports or recreation events together while making time for church on the weekends. While the idea of healthy living may seem far fetched in the urban and rural communities that makeup the Capital Region, Dan Buettner puts the value of commitment in perspective. “You have to realize where people live the longest is not because they try or because they have some heroic sense of individual responsibility. It’s because they live in an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice.” He points to Fort Worth’s recent turnaround as a repeatable success story.

After being ranked 185th out of 190 five years ago in 2013, Fort Worth is now in the top 20 percent of the country’s metropolitan cities. It was a five-year community effort. Texas Health Resources, their health system, partnered with community leaders, neighborhoods, businesses, schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and faith-based organizations to invest in social health. Their goal was to address obstacles to healthy living before people became ill or developed chronic problems. Fort Worth set goals to make it easier for residents to move naturally, eat better, develop healthy social circles, and live with purpose. They improved access to fresh produce in stores and a citywide ordinance that banned smoking in public spaces. They shared the vision to make the healthy choice the easy choice, and they accomplished it together.

Written by Michael Arce, Marketing Coordinator, Capital Cardiology Associates
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.