Secrets of People Who Lived Past 100

Lucile Randon Sister André


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Lucile Randon Sister André

Living Testaments

The oldest known person in the world died at 118, far exceeding the United Nation's world life expectancy of 72.98 years. But living past 100 isn't the rarity it once was. Many exceed the milestone and live a century or more, including the 1 in 7 million Westerners estimated to live past the age of 110. Each of these centenarians and supercentenarians (more than 110 years) credits their extraordinary longevity to something different, including some colorful claims — healthy and otherwise — that may have little basis in science. Just remember to take their insights with a grain of salt, as researchers believe it's mostly a matter of genetics. 

Related: How Long Can You Expect to Live in America's Biggest Cities?

Freeze motion of red wine pouring into glass.

Never Stop Working … and Drink Wine

Lucile Randon, known as Sister André, was a French nun who was believed to be the oldest person in the world until she died in 2022, less than a month before her 119th birthday. The supercentenarian previously made headlines in 2021 when she tested positive for COVID-19 and experienced so few symptoms she didn't realize she was sick. When asked about her secret to a long life, she told French media: "Working … makes you live. I worked until I was 108." She was also known for enjoying a glass of wine each day and indulging in chocolate.

RelatedBenefits of Working Past Retirement Age

Eating Chocolate and Olive Oil

A Diet Rich in Olive Oil and Chocolate

As far as Guinness World Records can ascertain, the oldest human to ever live was the Frenchwoman Jeanne Louise Calment, born in 1875 and who died in 1997 after 122 years and 164 days. She remained active in fencing until age 100, also crediting her long life to laughing frequently, smearing olive oil on her skin, and eating a kilo (2.2 pounds) of chocolate a week — all of which are associated with long life and heart-healthy diets. 

Related: The Silent Killer of Men Over 65 That Isn't a Heart Attack

Eating Healthy Small Meals

Eating Healthy, Small Meals

The oldest man to ever live, on the other hand, was Jiroemon Kimura, who was born in 1897 and died at the age of 116 in 2013. His personal motto was "eat light to live long," owing to the Confucian practice of "hara hachi bu," meaning to eat only until one is 80% full. Recent scientific studies suggest cutting one's daily calories may indeed have a profound effect on longevity.

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Soaking in Hot Springs

Soaking in Hot Springs and Eating Sweets

Masazo Nonaka of Japan was born in 1905, two years after the Wright brothers' first successful powered flight, and for a time, he was the world's oldest living man. He died in 2019 at age 113. Nonaka credited eating sweets and soaking in his family's hot springs on the island of Hokkaido for his long life. But his daughter said it was because he lived without undue stress. 

Sushi and Sleep

Sushi and Sleep

Misao Okawa was the world's oldest living person until dying in 2015 at her home in Osaka, Japan, at the age of 117. Asked for the secret of her longevity, she said, "I wonder about that too!" She also speculated it was due to eating sushi and getting at least eight hours of sleep a night. There's likely some truth to Okawa claim about getting plenty of rest, as not getting enough sleep has been shown to shorten lifespans, and Japan's exceptionally high life expectancy has been linked to the national diet.

Avoid Pork and Chicken

Avoiding Pork, Chicken, and Rum

Violet Moss-Brown of Jamaica, previous record holder for the title of oldest living person, died in September 2017 after 117 years of life. She told the Jamaica Gleaner, "When people ask what I eat and drink to live so long, I say to them that I eat everything, except pork and chicken, and I don't drink rum and dem tings." 

Fresh Pasta, Raw Meat, and Eggs

Eating Fresh Pasta, Raw Meat, and Three Eggs Every Day

Another former-oldest living person, Emma Morano of Vercelli, Italy, lived nearly 118 years from 1899 until 2017. Conveniently for anyone wishing to duplicate her longevity, she's said to have followed the same diet for 90 years, consisting of fresh pasta, a dish of raw meat, and three eggs a day — all of which are often correlated to long life expectancy, like most aspects of the Mediterranean diet.

Everything in Moderation

Everything in Moderation

Born in 1903, Polish-Israeli supercentenarian Yisrael Kristal was the oldest living Holocaust survivor and briefly the oldest living man before his death in 2017 at age 113. Kristal's daughter explained his habits: "His attitude to life is everything in moderation. He eats and sleeps moderately, and says that a person should always be in control of his own life and not have his life control him, as far as this is possible."

Not Letting Anything Faze You

Not Letting Anything Faze You

One common trend among centenarians seems to be a stress-free approach to everyday life, as confirmed by another former oldest living person, Sarah Knauss, who died at age 119 in 1999. "She's a very tranquil person and nothing fazes her," Knauss' daughter said of her mother. "That's why she's living this long." As one might expect, a less anxious, happier existence has been linked to longer life expectancy

etienne voss/istockphoto

Eating Funche

Puerto Rican Emiliano Mercadeo del Toro was the world's oldest living person for only 44 days, but the oldest living man for more than two years before his 2007 death at the age of 115. Mercado credited his long life to his sense of humor and a diet heavy in funche, a creamy island dish made from cornmeal, butter, and milk.

Avoiding Junk Food

Avoiding Junk Food and Minding One's Own Business

A Tennessean suffragette born in 1896, Besse Cooper became the oldest living person and the eighth person confirmed to live 116 years before dying at the same age in 2012. She attributed her long life to "minding her own business and not eating junk food," both sound pieces of advice for anyone, whether seeking to become a supercentenarian or not.

The Man Above

'The Man Above'

Before he died in 2019, Anthony Mancinelli of Newburgh, New York, held a unique world record — that of the world's oldest barber. Born in Italy in 1911, Mancinelli had been cutting hair since 1923, when barbers still offered services like bloodletting and wart removal. "Everybody asks me; even the doctor asks me. He thinks I've got a secret. I said, 'If I had a secret, I'd have given it to my brothers,'" Mancinelli said. "Only one man knows the secret. He says, 'Who's that?' I said, 'The Man above.'"

Never Retiring

Never Retiring

Ruth Gruber was born in 1911, before women had the right to vote, and went on to become a legendary photojournalist, foreign correspondent, and author before dying at the age of 105. Her advice for increasing longevity was true to her journalistic efforts: "Never, never, never, never retire." But what works for some doesn't necessarily work for all, and there's conflicting advice from experts on whether life expectancy is improved by retiring earlier or later.

Staying Single

Staying Single

Scotland's oldest living woman Jessie Gallan died in 2015 at age 109, shortly after telling The Times her secret was eating porridge every morning as well as "staying away from men. They're just more trouble than they're worth." She's not the only single female supercentenarian to say so, and the claim is further bolstered by studies showing that lifelong single women tend to do better than their male counterparts.

Love What You Do

Love What You Do

Atlanta pediatrician Dr. Leila Denmark lived to 114 years old before dying in April 2012, retiring from her work only 11 years before, at the age of 103. Her advice on achieving such longevity was simple: "Most of all, you have to love what you're doing. Anything you have to do is work. Anything you love to do is play."

Be Nice to Everyone

Being Nice to Everyone

Another wholesome recommendation for lengthening lifespan came from Bonita Zigrang of Rancho Palos Verdes, California, who died in 2015 at age 110. Her secret, she said, was "Just being nice to everybody." Her son agreed, saying, "I attribute it to Mother never letting anyone bother her." More anecdotal evidence to match the scientific evidence that less stress results in longer lifespans.

A Good Wife and Exercise

A Good Wife and Plenty of Exercise

The last surviving participant of the first U.S. Masters golf tournament in 1934, Samuel Henry "Errie" Ball died in 2014 at age 103, attributing his longevity to, "Hav[ing] a good wife. Plenty of exercise. Good thoughts. Minimal drinking but … a couple of Scotches every night." In support of at least one of his claims, men with spouses do live longer on average than those without.

Having Interests and Meeting New People

Have Lots of Interests and Meet Lots of People

Formerly the oldest living active investor before his death in 2015, New Yorker Irving Kahn lived to age 109 and gave a multifaceted answer on his secrets for living longer: "First, you need a nutritious diet, with a lot of vegetables and salads. Second, get plenty of fresh air. Third, don't drink. I drink at most one glass of wine every three months. Fourth, you have to always stay in motion, be open, get to know people from all over the world. And, fifth, have a lot of interests and learn things that you can't do yet — that keeps you young!"

Woman rejecting more alcohol from wine bottle in bar

Don't Drink, Don't Retire

One of the first successful female entrepreneurs in Dallas, realtor Ebby Halliday died in 2015 at age 104 and echoed some others on her list in explaining her longevity, "Don't drink. Don't retire." Though the effects or retirement are uncertain, drinking even one extra glass of wine daily can shorten lifespans.

Take the Stairs

Plan Ahead, Share What You Know, and Take the Stairs

Before his death at age 105 in 2017, Japanese centenarian Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara was one of the world's longest-serving physicians and published more than a dozen books after his 75th birthday, including one high-seller titled "Living Long, Living Good." His many tips for staying fit into old age include always planning ahead, sharing what you know, retiring late, always taking the stairs, and drinking orange juice with a tablespoon of olive oil every morning. 

Closeup of Prunes in a Square White Porcelain Bowl, with a Fork Over Them, Into One Prune, Selective Focus

Eating Prunes Daily

A native of Yonkers, New York, Morris Lensky was born in 1911 and died in 2012 at the age of 101. When asked how he survived so long, Lensky said: "You have to be lucky, but I made the best of things when bad things happened. I also ate prunes every single day." Indeed, prunes do come with a host of diverse health benefits that may help life expectancy. 

Anacin and Bananas

Anacin and Bananas

Spanish-American Salustiano Sanchez held the title of oldest living man for a time before his death in 2013 at the age of 112. The Grand Island, New York, resident's hobbies included gardening, crossword puzzles, and gin rummy. But he credited his longevity to his daily habit of eating one banana and taking one Anacin — a pain reliever with aspirin and caffeine.

Take Care of Yourself Before Others

Take Care of Yourself Before Others

Another former oldest living person, Brazilian Maria Gomes Valentim da Silva, who was born in 1896 and lived to the age of 114, said her secret to a long life was looking after herself before others, plus sticking to a breakfast of fruit, coffee, and bread.

Bartosz Luczak/istockphoto

Eating Bacon

Pearl Cantrell of Richland Springs, Texas, died in 2014 at the age of 105, but not before crediting her long life to an unexpected source: bacon. "I love bacon, I eat it everyday," she said. But don't fill your fridge with Oscar Meyer just yet. Bacon is typically seen as providing a smorgasbord of health risks, such as sodium and saturated fat.

Peanut Oil

Lots of Peanut Oil

The villages of Chengmai on China's Hainan island province have one of the highest ratios of residents exceeding 100 years of age, more than 200 out of a total population of 560,000. In 2013, the great-granddaughter of one such resident named Li Aizhu, born in 1900, said her grandmother's purported secret was eating lots of peanut oil — a good source of vitamin E and antioxidants that can reduce risk factors for heart disease and high blood sugar.


Porridge, Prunes, and Not Going to Bed on a Full Stomach

Scotland resident David Henderson was believed to be the U.K.'s oldest man before his death in 1998 at the age of 109. According to the BBC, he attributed his longevity to porridge, prunes, and never going to bed on a full stomach — a practice that has been linked to better metabolism and preventing weight gain.  

Eat Raccoons and Muskrats

Eat Raccoons and Muskrats, But Not Possum

Chief Tecumseh Deerfoot Cook — who led the Pamunkey Indian Tribe for more than four decades before his death in 2003 at age 103 — offered some more unconventional dietary advice that those wishing to duplicate his longevity might find difficult to follow. "Eat plenty of raccoons and muskrats and drink Pamunkey River Water," he said when asked for his secret. "But lay off the possum."

Praying, Loving, and Forgiving

Praying, Loving, Forgiving, Eating Vegetables

Supercentenarian Daisey Bailey was born in 1896 and died in 2010 at the age of 113, leaving behind 20 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. In true grandmotherly fashion, Bailey said her longevity was attributable to her practices of always praying, loving, forgiving, and eating vegetables.

Stay Upbeat

Staying Upbeat

After Bailey's death, Mississippi Winn became the oldest living African American until she died in 2011, shortly before her 114th birthday. She avoided dairy products and took one aspirin and vitamin a day, and though she didn't offer any secrets for longevity like others on this list, she shared some things in common with them, like being unmarried and, by all accounts, an upbeat person who avoided getting upset and instead "took things as they'd come."

A Big Breakfast

Eating a Big Breakfast

Among the oldest men to have ever lived, Benjamin Harrison Holcomb credited his longevity to always eating a big breakfast, though his lack of vices — he never drank — certainly didn't hurt either. Holcomb died in 2000 at the age of 111.

A Spoonful of Honey

Don't Have Children, Eat a Spoonful of Honey Daily

Before her death in 2015 at the age of 115, Massachusetts resident and supercentenarian Bernice Madigan told anyone who asked the simple recipe for her extraordinary longevity: no children, no stress, and a daily spoonful of honey. Though studies suggest parents tend to live longer than the childless, honey is widely known for its myriad health benefits that include lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels and aiding heart health.

Pastoralism and Goat Cheese

Pastoralism and Goat Cheese

The Italian island of Sardinia is one of five "blue zones," or regions identified as having the world's highest concentrations of centenarians, and thus there have been numerous efforts to document what aspects of the local culture contribute to this trend of longevity. Residents credited their clean air and locally produced wine, while researchers found living past age 100 was most highly correlated with pastoralism, or shepherding livestock — a lifestyle associated with high consumption of goat's milk and sheep's cheese, about 15 pounds a year.


Drinking Beer

On her birthday in 2015, New Jerseyan Agnes Fenton celebrated her 110th year on Earth with a beer — the beverage she claims as one of the keys to her longevity. Before her death at 112, Fenton said she drank three Miller High Lifes and a shot of Scotch whiskey a day and also that she makes sure to "keep in touch with God and do the right thing, that's all I know."

Never Wearing Makeup

Never Wearing Makeup

Adelina Domingues of San Diego lived to become the oldest living person in the U.S. before her death at age 114 in 2002. Among her most frequently dispensed pieces of advice for women wishing to emulate her longevity was to refrain from wearing makeup or going to beauty shops and to avoid dating.


Walk, Don't Drive

A veteran of World War II who marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr., George Boggess died in 2016 at the age of 104. He credited his long life to being active. "I attribute my longevity to a great extent to walking," he said, "not being in the back of the car strapped down."

Bacon, Eggs, and Grits

Bacon, Eggs, and Grits

Another supercentenarian with a fondness for bacon, Susannah Mushatt Jones lived for nearly 117 years relying on four strips of bacon along with scrambled eggs and grits every morning for breakfast. Like other supercentenarians, she also took minimal medications even in old age, only consuming a multivitamin and one pill for her blood pressure.



New York supercentenarian Duranord Veillard, who lived to 111, had his own morning routine consisting of five to seven pushups and a breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, and tea. One of the world's oldest families, the Donnellys in Northern Ireland, has had a similar fondness for eating oatmeal, which is high in fiber and antioxidants. One study found that every 10 grams of fiber added to your daily diet can reduce one's risk of premature death by 11%. 



Another supercentenarian who never worried about ingesting ice cream and other sweets, Paul Marcus was 101 years old when he offered perhaps the most accurate answer for how to live over a century: luck. "One, you gotta have good genes. Two, you gotta be God-damned lucky for 100 years. And three: Try not to eat anything that's healthy. It's true. I eat whatever I want."