40 Secrets of People Who Lived Past 100

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Happy centenarian woman
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LIVING TESTAMENTS

Human life expectancy has been steadily rising among people in the developed world for nearly two centuries, and in the U.S., we're at 81 years for women and 76 for men. Yet there are many who vastly exceed that 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 (110+ years) seems to credit their extraordinary longevity to something different, so let's review some of their colorful claims — healthy and otherwise — and see which have a basis in science. Just remember to take some with a grain of salt, as researchers believe it's mostly a matter of genetics.
Bowl of chocolate
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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 smoked for 95 of those years and 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 of chocolate per week — all of which are indeed associated with long life and heart-healthy diets.
Bowl of Korean food
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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 percent full. Recent scientific studies suggest cutting one's daily calories may indeed have a profound effect on future longevity.
Man soaking in Japanese hot springs
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SOAKING IN HOT SPRINGS AND EATING SWEETS

Currently the record holder for oldest living male, Masazo Nonaka is a 112-year-old Japanese supercentenarian born in 1905, two years after the Wright brothers' first successful powered flight. Nonaka credits eating sweets and soaking in his family's hot springs on the island of Hokkaido for his long life. His daughter, in contrast, says it's because he lives without undue stress.
Nigiri sushi
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SUSHI AND SLEEP

Misao Okawa was the world's oldest living person until dying in 2015 at her home in Osaka, at the age of 117. Asked for the secret of her longevity, she replied, "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 this, as not getting enough sleep has been confirmed to shorten one's life, and Japan's exceptionally high life expectancy has been linked to the national diet.
Chicken and a pig outside
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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 explained to 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 with eggs and meat
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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 per day — all of which are often correlated to long life expectancy, like most aspects of the Mediterranean diet.
Balanced display of the food groups
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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."
Cigars
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FRIENDS, CIGARS, WATER, AND STAYING POSITIVE

Born in Denmark in 1882, Christian Mortensen lived to the ripe old age of 115 before dying in his sleep in 1998. On his last birthday, Mortensen credited his long life to "friends, a good cigar, drinking lots of good water, no alcohol, staying positive, and lots of singing."

Relaxed senior woman in a wheelchair giving a peace sign
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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. "That's why she's living this long." As one might expect, a less anxious, happier existence has been linked to longer life expectancy.
Bowl of cornmeal with butter
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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.
Choosing an orange over a donut
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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.
Light shining through the clouds in the sky
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'THE MAN ABOVE'

Anthony Mancinelli of Newburgh, New York, holds a unique world record — that of world's oldest barber. Born in Italy in 1911, Mancinelli has 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," explains Mancinelli. "Only one man knows the secret.' He says, 'Who's that?' I said, 'The Man above."
Senior woman at her work desk
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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 to increase one's 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.

Happy senior woman with her hands under her chin
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STAYING SINGLE

Scotland's oldest living woman Jessie Gallan passed away 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.

Happy senior man gardener
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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."

Senior man patting another senior man's shoulder
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BEING NICE TO EVERYONE

Another wholesome recommendation for lengthening one's life 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.
Glass of whisky and a cigarette
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CIGARETTES, WHISKY, AND WILD WOMEN

Born in 1896 and died in 2009 at age 113, Henry Allingham was a founder of the Royal Air Force whose war record spanned seven decades, and he remains the oldest British man to have ever lived. In contrast to some of his fellow, more moderate supercentenarians, Allingham attributed his longevity to "cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women."
Senior couple looking at each other and smiling
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A GOOD WIFE AND PLENTY OF EXERCISE

The last surviving participant of the first U.S. Masters golf tournament in 1934, Samuel Henry Ball, aka Errie, died in 2014 at age 103, attributing his longevity to, "Hav[ing] a good wife. Plenty of exercise. Good thoughts. Minimal drinking but and 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.
Senior women painting and laughing together
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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, don't smoke. 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 holding her hand over a glass of red wine
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DON'T DRINK, DON'T SMOKE, 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 smoke. Don't retire." Though the effects or retirement are uncertain, drinking even one extra glass of wine daily can shorten one's lifespan, and a 2013 study found that smokers who continue after age 40 can take at least 10 years off their life expectancy.
Woman walking up the stairs
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PLAN AHEAD, SHARE WHAT YOU KNOW, AND TAKE THE STAIRS

Before his death at age 105 last year, 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.
Bowl of prunes
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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 answered simply, "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.
Peeling a banana
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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 a regular diet of one banana and one Anacin — a pain reliever of aspirin and caffeine — per day.
Senior woman sitting on her patio outside
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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.
Plate of bacon
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EATING BACON

Pearl Cantrell of Richland Springs, Texas, died in 2014 at the age of 105, but not before crediting her unusually 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
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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.
Bowl of plain porridge
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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.
Raccoon in a tree
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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."
Senior woman hands holding a heart
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PRAYING, LOVING, FORGIVING, EATING VEGETABLES

Daisey Bailey was an African-American supercentenarian born in 1896 and who 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 due to her practices of always praying, loving, forgiving, and eating vegetables.
Smiling senior woman outside
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STAYING UPBEAT

After Bailey's death, Mississippi Winn became the oldest living African-American until her time came too, in 2011, shortly before her 114th birthday. She avoided dairy products and took one aspirin and vitamin per day, and though she didn't offer any one "secret" 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."
Big breakfast with pancakes, bacon, and eggs
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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 nor smoked — certainly didn't hurt either. Holcomb died in 2000 at the age of 111.
Spoonful of honey from a jar
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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.
Variety of goat cheese
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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 per year.

Pint of beer at a bar
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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 per day, and also that she makes sure to "keep in touch with God and do the right thing, that's all I know."
Bowl of ice cream
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ICE CREAM AND CIGARS

At 112, the nation's oldest man and oldest surviving war veteran, Richard Overton has defied expectations by living more than a century in spite of fully embracing many of the unhealthiest of vices. The Austin resident said in 2017 that he smokes up to 12 cigars and drinks four glasses of whiskey each day, while also prescribing his "Overton diet" of eating ice cream every night. "It makes me happy," he said. Overton was in the news recently when someone robbed his bank account. The bank, however, has restored the funds.

Older woman with a natural face and no makeup
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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.
Man walking outside in the park
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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 an active lifestyle. "I attribute my longevity to a great extent to walking," he said, "not being in the back of the car strapped down."
Plate of bacon, eggs, grits, and toast
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BACON, EGGS, AND GRITS

Another supercentenarian with a fondness for everyone's favorite fried breakfast fixture, 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.

Bowl of oatmeal with berries
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OATMEAL

Recently deceased at 111 years old, New York supercentenarian Duranord Veillard had his own morning routine consisting of five to seven pushups and a breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, and tea. The world's current oldest family, the Donnellys in Northern Ireland, has 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 percent.
Happy senior man standing with his arms folded
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LUCK

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."

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