How to Live Past 100

100th. Anniversary

Q. This past year, I became interested in genealogy, and have been compiling my family tree using online resources. With some research, I found that generations before mine have included not-so-distant relatives who have lived past 100. My parents, unfortunately, both died in their 70’s. I wonder what my ancestors did right to live so long. I would like to replicate some of the habits of centenarians, so my family has a better chance of a long life ahead. Based on what you’ve read and heard from clients, do you have any suggestions to help?

A. Not long ago, someone who had lived to be 100 was a true rarity. Even today, those reaching 100 are contacted by the White House, and often the national and local media. Now, closer attention to good nutrition and access to better medical care are paying off, and living past 100 has become more common. In fact, one in 26 baby boomers is now expected to live to 100 and many more will reach the mid-to-late 90s, according to the book, Celebrate 100: Centenarian Secrets to Success in Business and Life. This week, as we celebrate National Centenarians Day, we recognize the 55,000 Americans aged 100 or over. In 1980, the number was 32,000.

Born just a decade or so after the turn of the century, centenarians were teenagers during the Great Depression, young people during World War II, and, for some, grandparents by the time the 1960s rolled around. Their stories are different, but they share common themes.

Understanding centenarians is important for seniors to become knowledgeable about the lifestyle choices that can influence longevity. To explore this topic further, let’s look at countries where seniors are living the longest, including Japan, and countries spanning the Mediterranean and East Asia, such as those with strong economies and healthcare systems. Here are some facts about aging in those countries:

  • Diet: John Beard, director of Aging and Life-course at the World Health Organization (WHO) attributes longevity to diet. For instance, the diet in Japan includes plenty of fresh fish and vegetables, combined with low levels of meat and saturated fat. The diet in Southern Europe is a Mediterranean diet, that traditionally consists of a small amount of wine, fresh vegetables, olive oil and, again, little meat and saturated fat. A recent study found that people consistently consuming a Mediterranean diet were both physically and mentally healthier as they aged.
  • Lifestyle: Active lifestyles into older years are the norm in Japan, helped by the country’s extensive rural landscape getting people outdoors, and further aided by a well-established health infrastructure. Beard believes that in countries such as Italy, Spain and France, cultures of physical activity and warmer climates have a role to play. In countries with cold, harsh winters, maintaining an active lifestyle becomes a challenge.
  • Social Relationships: Sarah Harper, professor of Gerontology at the University of Oxford cites other reasons for Japanese longevity. “They tend to have a society which tends to promote a strong family set up and stress-relieving cultural activities,” she says. Furthermore, Japan has less social inequality than many other countries, enabling everyone to experience these benefits. Social relationships are important in Southern Europe, as well, and family ties are strong. This is helpful because when people have a greater sense of belonging to a community, or family, and maintain a healthy work-life balance, they stay healthy longer.
  • Economy: In general, countries with a smaller wealth and class divide have a healthier aging population. For instance, “in Singapore, there’s a range of wealth and advantage; there are very few people at the bottom,” says Beard. “This uniformity means more members of the population can live the lifestyles needed to ensure good health — well into their eighties and beyond.”
  • Good Health Programs: If entire populations can access good health programs — such as screening services — chronic conditions that generally affect older populations can be picked up early and treated before they’re irreparable.

For “secrets” on how to live past 100, read this recent CNN article about what people in Acciaroli, Italy are doing.

Centenarians May Be Living Longer, But Disease Takes its Toll

When looking at centenarians in the U.S. and other countries, life span is not necessarily matched by increases in “health span,” or time spent living in good health. Longer life spans have been accompanied by a tremendous increase in the disease burden due to Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is now the number 12 cause of disease burden in the US, and the fourth leading cause of death. Its impact on health has become much more severe over the course of two decades; the number of years of life lost prematurely because of Alzheimer’s increased by 392 percent—far more than any other disease. Other wealthy countries have witnessed similar but not as dramatic increases.

How Do We Care for “the oldest of the old”?

Once people get to be centenarians or even beforehand if they are afflicted with diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, many will need help in their daily life. This is an “intense burden for the health care system in the U.S.,” says Kathrin Boerner, associate professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, adding that we are “totally not ready for it.”

Many of these seniors want to stay in their own homes, but that isn’t always possible. This makes it all the more important to plan in advance!

Hoping to Live Past 100? Plan for your future and your loved ones.

Luck and genetics play roles in longevity, of course, but you can’t control that. If you want to better your odds of hitting 100, focus on what you can do, such as eating healthy, exercising, and cutting down on stress. As you are taking care of yourself and enjoying your life, it is also a good idea to plan for your future and for your loved ones. Our firm is dedicated to helping protect seniors preserve dignity, quality of life, and financial security. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797



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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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