103-Year Old Record-Breaking Runner Reveals Her Secrets to Longevity

When Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins turned 100, she decided to try a new hobby. When you imagine a hobby for a centenarian, you may think of knitting, playing cards, or even low-impact swimming. The last thing anyone would imagine is running, or setting records doing so three years later (at 103!)

There is nothing low-impact about Julia Hawkins. In fact, prior to becoming a world-class runner, she was a pretty skilled biker! Julia decided to switch gears a bit knowing that she’d be a good runner because she had a lot of practice sprinting to pick up phone calls to her landline! “I thought it’d be neat to run at 100 and do the 100-yard dash,” she said.

Now at 103, she knows her suspicions were right: She won gold in the 50- and 100-meter races at the National Senior Games this week! The sprinter also set a new U.S.A. track and field record as the oldest woman to compete on an American track.

Julia admits that she doesn’t train like a typical runner. “I just keep active and do lots of things,” she said. To train, she bends and stretches every day and walks around her property to tend to her plants. Julia has always enjoyed being active. When she was younger, she ran a summer camp for girls during the war, taught elementary school, and was a Girl and Boy Scout leader for her four children.

“All my life I have done something like that,” she said. “You just keep active.”
Besides being active, Julia has some other advice for those who want to know her secrets to “staying young” and living longer:

  • Marry someone you like, admire, and respect: Julia credits her success in life to her marriage of 70 years. Julia has lived in the same house since she and her husband, Murray, built it after World War II, when he became a physics professor at nearby Louisiana State University. While Murray passed away at 95, she believes she has enjoyed such a great life because she lived with such a supportive partner. She says marrying a good man is the secret to a long happy relationship. “Marry someone that you not only love, but you like, and you admire, and respect,” she said.
  • Don’t stop just because you are older: Julia tells other seniors: “Don’t stop. You can still do things when you get older. Just keep moving and be interested in things.”
  • Do the best you can do: Julia says, “(k)eep in good shape, try not to be overweight, get good sleep, and keep exercising and training.” This comes with one caveat: “There is a fine line of pushing yourself and wearing yourself out,” she says. “You don’t want to overdo it. You just want to do the best you can do.”
  • You are only as old as you feel: One of Julia’s most inspiring qualities is her youthful, determined state of mind. Two years ago she said, “I don’t feel 101,” she reflects. “I feel about 60 or 70. You are not going to be perfect at 101, but nothing stops me.”

Blue Zone Residents Give Their Own Advice About Longevity

Julia Hawkins resided in Louisiana, in a town where living past 100 is rare. There are places around the world where it is a lot more common, however. Blue Zones are places where residents live much longer than average and boast the highest population of centennials. Five Blue Zones include Okinawa, Japan; the Ogliastra region of Sardinia; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California. For years, scientists have examined these places to learn the habits of their abnormally healthy humans. Here are some of the findings:

1. Incorporate exercise into everyday activities: Physical activity is more about natural surroundings rather than dedicated trips to the gym. Instead of sitting for prolonged periods, move frequently. Walk (or bike) to school, to work, to friends’ houses and keep moving as you get older. “The moment you stop walking, it’s a fairly sharp decline,” says Dan Buettner, Blue Zones scientist.

2. Stop eating before you are full: Okinawans abide by the 2,500-year-old Confucian mantra of “Hara hachi bu,” which reminds them to push their plates away when they feel 80% full. The reason this aids longevity: when you stop eating after not feeling hungry, but before feeling full, it helps keep your waistline in check.

3. Drink up to two glasses of wine a day: Red wine has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and slow the progression of neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, thanks to plant compounds and antioxidants. Don’t overindulge though: more than one glass a day for women, and two for men negates the positive effects.

4. Keep stress at bay: The root of nearly every disease is chronic inflammation. It can come from unhealthy eating, and also from the stress of everyday lives. Centenarians have daily rituals that reverse this. These include rituals such as naps in Ikaria, happy hour in Sardinia, and taking a moment to remember ancestors in Okinawa. Julia Hawkins also has it right. Another suggested stress-relieving practice is running and exercise!

5. Live a life with purpose: Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. In Okinawa, it’s called “Ikigai” and in Nicoya, it’s “plan de vida.” Both translate roughly to: “why I wake up in the morning.”

6. Be social: Having social circles provide camaraderie and kinship that supports healthy behaviors. The Okinawans form “moai” pods of five friends who commit to each other to life while the Ikarians build larger communities that socialize frequently.

7. Be part of a faith-based community: All but five of the 263 centenarians involved in the original Blue Zone studies belonged to some faith-based community. While the specific type of spirituality varied, the research is clear: attending faith-based services four times per month can add up to 14 years of life expectancy.

8. Prioritize family: Julia Hawkins also has this right! Being in a positive, committed relationship can add up to six years of life expectancy, and Blue Zone people go out of their way to cultivate deep relationships with their children as well as parents and grandparents. Their cultures value old age and aging family members are often cared for in their families’ homes.

Do You Want to Live to 100 Or More?

If you do, hopefully some of the lessons from Julia Hawkins and the Blue Zones can be incorporated into your own life, and you can live a long, healthy, and happy life.

Remember, as you are eating healthy, exercising, and minimizing stress to maximize your longevity, it is also a good idea to plan for your future and for your loved ones. Our firm is dedicated to helping protect seniors by preserving 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, please call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

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