Wild Women, Lots of Booze & Healthy Eating: The Secrets to Living a Long Life, According to People Over 100
We've rounded up the smartest, silliest and most interesting tips from centenarians
Ponce de León may have been searching for the fountain of youth, but we’re more interested in getting old.
While doctors and nutritionists can offer up suggestions on how to live a long, healthy life, the people who know the most about reaching a ripe age are those who have already done it — namely centenarians.
In order to unlock the secrets of living a long life, we’ve rounded up the tips and tricks that people who have reached 100 years of age have dished out. Their advice can sometimes be contradictory (some say to eat healthily, another says to drink three sodas a day) while other tips can be more general, like loving one another, but every response proves that there’s a lot more living than just reaching a certain number.
Get a Positive Outlook
In 2016, 108-year-old Arlena Labon of East Cleveland, Ohio, said the secret to longevity is to “love one another” and “treat one another good.” (That might be a family motto, as she also had a cousin who lived to be 114.)
Sarah Topol, a registered nurse who interviewed more than 1,300 people over the age of 80 for a study on octogenarians, said that the most common trait she observed was that the participants were “upbeat, have a good sense of humor and just see the positive in life.”
Have a Little Faith
Elizabeth Francis, a 110-year-old from Houston, said that it is her faith that keeps her going. She told ABC affiliate KTRK that her longevity is “a blessing of the Lord.” She explained, “He’s the one keeping me. That’s why I’m living.”
Ruth Hilliard of North Carolina celebrated her 106th birthday in June 2019, and she credited her longevity to her faith as well. A former school teacher, she “still recites scripture on a regular basis,” she shared.
Jessie Gallan, who turned 109 in 2015, said her secret to a long life was “staying away from men.”
“They’re just more trouble than they’re worth,” she said.
And Gallan isn’t the only one to credit her long life to singledom! Louise Signore, 107, of New York City said, “I think the secret of 107 [is] I never got married. I think that’s the secret. My sister says, ‘I wish I never got married!’ ”
Get Some Shut-Eye
Kermit Hongo, who died at the age of 116 in 2003, was known for her unique habit of sleeping for two days straight and staying up for two days straight.
“We even feed her in her sleep,” her grandson said.
Dan Buettner, who studies “Blue Zones,” or areas with a high concentration of people who live to 100, credits the healthy lifestyle of citizens in Sardinia, Italy, with their unusually high rate of centenarians. According to Buettner, people who live in Sardinia are mostly shepherds — a job that requires a lot of physical activity — and eat a plant-based diet, as eating meat is considered a luxury. Still, most of the people in Sardinia still enjoy a glass or two of red wine with dinner.
When the Today show visited a village in Sardinia in 2015, a family who was known for their longevity credited their well-being to their family’s healthy, vegetable-rich minestrone soup, which Buettner pointed out contained a hearty serving of beans.
Beryl Netto from New York thought that eating puréed prunes and exercising every day were the keys to success. She even continued to do light exercise for a half-hour before going to bed when she was 99.
100-year-old British-born ballet phenomenon Henry Danton credits taking care of his body as the secret to his long life and his ability to continue teaching ballet. Although some may beg to differ, Danton told Today that there’s nothing “amazing” about his longevity.
“It’s not amazing, you have to take care of yourself,” Danton told Today. “This body is the only thing you’ve got. You’ve been given this wonderful instrument, you have to look after it.”
“I really, absolutely believe exercise is the answer to everything,” he continued.
Just as important as keeping your body active is keeping your mind active, he said, emphasizing that staying optimistic has been “very important” for his health.
“There’s absolutely no point in making your life miserable,” he added. “Your mood affects you physically, absolutely.”
But Not Too Healthy
New York City native Helen “Happy” Reichert, who turned 108 in 2010, said that she hates salads, vegetables and getting up early. Instead, she loves to indulge in rare hamburgers, chocolate, cocktails and enjoying the nightlife.
French-born Jeanne Calment lived to be 122 until she passed away in 1997 and reportedly ate more than 2 lbs. of chocolate a week and smoked until she was 117. However, she did have some more traditional healthy habits, like riding a bicycle until she was 100.
Mary Francis Carruba, who was 99 in 2015, said not being an overachiever was her key.
“I was always a lazy bird,” she said. “That’s the secret to living longer — be lazy.”
Meanwhile, Henry Allingham, who lived to be 113 before he died in 2009, credited his long health to “cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women.”
But not all don’t-be-too-healthy tips have to do with alcohol: Elizabeth Sullivan, who turned 104 in 2015, said she drank three Dr. Pepper sodas every day.
“People try to give me coffee for breakfast,” she said. “Well, I’d rather have a Dr. Pepper.”
And Yes, You Can Have a Drink — or Three
Dorothy Howe, a retired secretary from the U.K. who turned 100 in 2013, said her secret to longevity was smoking 15 cigarettes a day and enjoying a glass of whisky every now and then.
“I only drink when I’m out but my doctor said I wouldn’t be alive without them,” she said.
Pauline Spagnola, who turned 100 last year, thinks you should have more than just a tipple — she said her secret to longevity is “to drink a lot of booze.”
Meanwhile, 101-year-old Andrew Slavonic, who was an Air Force gunner in World War II, was convinced that the key to his long life was a daily glass of Coors Light. He enjoys his at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
Others prefer their drink a little earlier … say, 9 or 10 in the morning. Giuseppe “Joe” Silveri, 100, is a very active man, but his real secret is an espresso each morning, spiked with “brandy, grappa or whatever’s on hand,” he shared.
Agnes Fenton, who turned 110 in 2015, agreed. She said she drinks three beers and has a shot of Jonnie Walker Blue Label scotch every day after a doctor told her to stick to drinking regimen when she developed a benign tumor in the 1930s. (Times were very different back then!)