Last weekend I played a ballroom dance gig where a guy was celebrating his 100th birthday. He zipped across the floor with several different partners all night long, rarely taking a break. He outlasted most of the other dancers, sticking around for our final set while many of the others were in their cars, already half way home. It was impressive! And inspirational. And it made me wonder how you arrive at being 100 years old, in great shape, and living a full life. As a modern day human who demands answers to all questions immediately, I did what anybody would do and asked the internet.
Before I realized it, I had spent several days reading dozens of articles about centenarians and how they got there. There is no quick and easy formula, but there are several characteristics that centenarians seem to have in common. It probably won't surprise you to hear that these things are common sense, basic wellness habits that we all know are important. But life gets messy, our priorities get confused, and sometimes we forget.
So here are 10 long-life tips I found on my non-scientific, amateur-quality, centenarian research project. Check it out. Take the suggestions. And if they work for you, say thanks by buying me a beer on your 100th if I'm still around.
1. Sleep By now you've heard it a million times- sleep is critical and the average person doesn't get enough of it. But sleep is so critical to both body and mind that we just need to eliminate the excuses and get it done. Eight hours of sleep every night. End of story.
2. Exercise Regularly & Reasonably You don't have to be an ultra-marathoner, but staying in shape is a key element in reaching the upper age bracket. Find something active that you enjoy doing- then do it! Scheduling and inertia can be tough to overcome initially, but once you lock in to the routine you'll be addicted to feeling good and strong. But don't overdo it- we injure more easily with age and take longer to repair.
3. Eat Well Do you really know what you're eating? Most don't. But go ahead, turn into one of those label reading geeks that clog up the grocery store aisles. Can't pronounce the ingredients? Eater beware! Geek it up again by asking where your food came from and how it was prepared. Enjoy mealtime with friends and family because sucking down fast food really sucks for your body.
4. Chill Out So far all of these centenarian traits require time. So what are you supposed to do- make some? Well, yeah, actually. Prioritizing your health and wellness over work and other activities can drastically lower stress levels. This is good because stress is the equal opportunity buzz-killer for body, mind and spirit. So take a page out of your favorite slacker's playbook, and have some fun. And remember that no matter what the situation, if it's not going to kill you, it could be worse.
5. Stay Mentally Engaged Exercise is as important for the mind as for the body. So do puzzles, play chess, have deep conversations, solve mysteries, write music or blogs. Find whatever gets your brainwaves rolling and ride the tide.
6. Stay Emotionally Connected Even people that don't like people need to be with other people. Humans are social beings. Whether its family or friends, we need to belong to a group in order to really thrive. I used to wonder why so many seniors choose to live in retirement communities, but when I spoke to them, I learned of the deep, rich social connections they enjoy there.
7. Be Self-Confident Remember Charlie & The Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka? Wonka said to Violet Beauregarde, "Well you certainly are confident, and confidence is key". Of course, Violet's overconfidence caused her to use poor judgement and turn into a giant blueberry, so maybe we should heed the lesson and balance confidence with humility.
8. Be Stubborn Most people who know a centenarian cited mild stubbornness as a notable characteristic of the very old. This stubbornness didn't appear because of age, but vice-versa. Standing your ground and being a little feisty apparently has it's advantages. My family thinks I've gained at least a decade of life based on this trait alone.
9. Find A Job You Love The story goes that John Lennon's grade school teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Lennon said, "I want to be happy". That attitude may or may not bring financial wealth, but it sure beats hating your life 8 hours a day. Apparently happiness is good for your health!
10. Have Sex Yeah baby! The centenarians I read about all mentioned that a healthy sex life is still important to them and helps them feel connected, vibrant and confident. They say the fire burns at all ages.
If you think there are things missing from this list, please add them on in the comment section. Like I said, my research is non-scientific and "for amusement purposes only". So join the conversation and post a thought.