The seven secrets to living to 100, according to the UK’s centenarians and longevity experts
- Just taking the stairs more often could boost your life expectancy by exercising
- People who socialise and learn a new skill like a language live longer, experts say
Genetics, healthy eating or just plain luck are among the factors thought to be behind living to see your 100th birthday.
But despite the uncertainty around how to reach this milestone, there are a record number of centenarians living in England and Wales, data for the Office for National Statistics revealed this week.
In 2021, nearly 14,000 people lived to 100 in England and Wales — up by more than a quarter in just a decade.
Here, longevity experts and Britain’s centenarian’s share the secrets to living a long and healthy life.
Learning a new skill, eating well, staying active and living by the sea are just some of the characteristics shared by centenarians, experts and centenarians tell us why
Some 13,924 people in England and Wales had reached age 100 by the time of the 2021 census, a staggering increase from just 110 when the survey was conducted in 1921.
Keeping fit and active has long been highlighted by experts as a way of keeping your muscles, joints and mind healthy.
But it could also be a way of boosting your life expectancy.
‘Evidence shows that being more physically active can lower the risk of depression and dementia, heart disease, stroke, Parkinson’s and some cancers’, Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told MailOnline.
But it’s not just about lifting weights and running marathons.
Simply moving more, taking the stairs or carrying shopping counts.
Ms Abrahams said: ‘It’s simply about moving more each day, in whatever way works, within our own capabilities.
‘Outdoors exercising is said to have more benefits, so you could try joining walking groups, a walk in the country or just walk to the shops instead of driving, any kind of activity is better than no activity at all.’
‘It’s never too late to get active, so try to boost your daily physical activity’, says Ruth Goss, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
It not only improves blood pressure, it also lowers cholesterol, keeps weight under control and gives your mental health a boost, all ways of warding off diseases.
Staying fit and active could be the key to a longer life expectancy. Experts say just walking more, carrying the shopping or taking the stairs can help
If you find an activity you enjoy, you are more likely to stick with it, advises Ms Goss.
Health chiefs recommend completing 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, such as a brisk walk, swimming or cycling.
But our ability to keep up this amount of exercise can get trickier as we age.
‘Where I live, I have plenty of stairs so even if I don’t go out, I’m active’, says Lauretta Boston, from London, who celebrated her 100th birthday in October 2022.
Ms Boston, who told the ONS about her life and experience of being a centenarian, said: ‘There are things I find difficult to do because I am lumbered with a body that won’t do what I want it to do.’
But still driven to stay well and active Lauretta visits the shops.
She said: ‘I have a little shopping trolley I can take to the shops and it’s nice to pick out what I want and go to the till.’
Living by the sea
Everyone enjoys the beach but moving to the sea-side could set you up to live to you’re 100th birthday, data suggests.
Coastal areas have the highest proportion of centenarians, according to ONS data with a high proportion living on the south coast.
But experts are not 100 per cent sure why.
It could be because centenarians living by the sea are ‘already healthy and wealthy people’ and choose to retire in coastal areas, a spokesperson the International Longevity Centre told MailOnline.
Coastal areas have the highest proportion of centenarians, according to ONS data with a high proportion living on the south coast
It added that once in these areas, older people ‘are able to have a relatively high standard of living, heat their homes, have a good diet, exercise and have plenty of family and friends’.
Coastal environments are not only better for helping people get outside and be more active, but they also help to reduce stress, experts say.
Spending time outside in nature can also improve your mood, reduce stress, improve physical health and improve self-esteem, according to mental health charity Mind.
Getting enough sleep
It’s not a mystery that getting enough shut-eye each night can improve your mood the next day.
But good quality sleep could also add years to your life.
Sleep is essential to helping memory and processing information, as well as removing waste products from brain cells, regulating your metabolism and maintaining the immune system.
Adults should be getting between six and eight hours a night, according to the NHS.
However, as we get older it can be hard to get enough sleep.
The ONS spoke to Lauretta Boston, who turned 100 in October 2022, about her view on aging – and she said ‘making myself look good’ was one way she dealt with the process
‘Sleep patterns change as we get older and lack of sleep can directly affect the way we feel’, says Ms Abrahams.
She added: ‘If you’re having difficulty sleeping, try cutting back on daytime naps and reduce the amount of caffeine you drink.
‘Try to make time to relax and unwind each evening, perhaps by reading a book, listening to the radio, or having a bath.’
Learning a new skill
Keeping your mind sharp by learning a new skill could boost your brain power in old age.
Whether it is learning to play an instrument or a new language, exercising your brain by stimulating the learning process can help improve your overall health.
Knowledge has been shown to pay off in a 2014 study which found that learning two or more languages in adulthood can slow down age-related cognitive decline.
‘Being positive and open, willing to try new things, and engaged with what’s going on around us have been shown to be important in sustaining our wellbeing as we get older’, says Ms Abrahams.
She suggests learning something new or joining a new club can help you to ‘retain a sense of purpose’.
She said: ‘Volunteering to help others, joining a local group of some kind or learning a new skill like a language or musical instrument are just a few examples of things worth considering if you’re looking at how to retain a sense of purpose and get the most out of life.’
Just like learning a new skill, staying social can also keep your mind active.
It’s been shown that older people who socialise daily, weekly or monthly have a significantly greater chance of a longer life than those who socialised the least or not at all.
The long-term study by researchers from Sichuan University West China Hospital looked at data for 28,563 Chinese people who were asked about their socialising habits.
Experts say this could be because spending time with friends and family can relive stress and anxiety.
It also encourages people to get outside and be more physically active.
Ms Abrahams said: ‘Spending time with others can help you feel more connected and less anxious.
It’s been shown that older people who socialise daily, weekly or monthly had a significantly greater chance of a longer life than those who socialised the least or not at all
‘Spending time with family or friends can remind you of happy memories, while meeting new people gives you the chance to share different experiences, thoughts and ideas.’
Age UK encourages people to join clubs, volunteer in the community or even connect with others safely online.
Ms Boston also puts her long life down to having plenty of friends and family around.
She said: ‘I live alone, but I never get lonely. I never seem to have enough time, because everything is a big effort and I’m so slow. It takes me time to do everything, so the days seem short. I also have my music and my family and friends.
‘My sister is 94 and I have had friends who also lived a long time. Two of them lived to 90 and one to 102, but unfortunately they have passed on. That’s what happens.
‘Friends I have made more recently don’t know me as well as friends I knew when I was young. They can be very good friends but can only really see you as you are now.’
Eating well and stay hydrated
Eating a healthy and balanced diet is a known way of slashing your risk of cancers and circulatory diseases.
More than 6million deaths globally could be avoided just by reducing the intake of processed foods, trans and saturated fats and added salt and sugar, according to Dr Xinyao Liu, from the Central South University,
Dr Liu, who was the study author on research published in the European Heart Journal – Quality of Care and Clinical Outcomes, also told Diabetes UK that these heart-related disease deaths could also be reduced if people increased their intake of fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and wholegrains.
Ms Goss, of the BHF, also urges people to eat theses foods to help protect their heart and reduce their risk of a heart attack or stroke.
She told MailOnline: ‘Time and again the Mediterranean diet comes out on top, with studies linking it to longer life expectancy.
‘This includes fish as well as plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils with fat from unsaturated sources.’
The centenarians had outlived their anticipated lifespans by three or four decades, and experienced momentous events including women getting the vote, the Second World War, the introduction of the NHS and advent of television
Experts say what we eat and drink gets even more important as we get older.
Ms Abrahams said: ‘It’s good to remember that one person’s nutritional needs can be very different from another’s. Finding a balance that’s enjoyable, varied, manageable and sustainable for you is important.’
She added: ‘Sometimes we may find that we lose our appetite as we get older, unintentional weight loss can be harmful so it’s important that we continue to eat, something is better than nothing.
READ MORE: Coastal towns dominate league table for centenarians – as numbers in England and Wales top 13,900 compared to just 110 in 1921
‘It’s important to drink enough to avoid dehydration and make sure our bodies function as they should. The official recommendations are to drink 6-8 cups of fluid a day – that’s about 1.5 litres or 2.5 pints. All hot and cold drinks count towards hydration.’
Have regular check ups
Staying on top of eye tests, hearing check ups and dental appointments can help catch diseases and infections early on.
As we age, our eyesight and hearing changes which can cause a loss of balance and affect quality of life.
Ms Abrahams said: ‘Eyesight changes as we age and can lead to a trip or loss of balance. Get your eyes and glasses checked regularly, at least every two years to detect any vision problems early.
‘Problems with your ears can severely affect your balance, and the risk of hearing loss increases with age. Talk with your GP if you notice hearing changes are affecting your day-to-day living or social life.’
But these check ups will also flag early signs of cancer.
Whether you have a full set of teeth or dentures its still important to go for regular check-ups at the dentist.
‘Your dentist will help make sure there are no problems developing and help prevent future problems. At the dentist, you can also get checked for signs of mouth and neck cancer’, says Ms Abrahams.
Ms Goss also stresses the importance of knowing your numbers and keeping on top of your blood pressure and cholesterol, if you want to live into old age.
The nurse said: ‘Prioritising your heart health at every age is one of the best ways to increase your chances of living a long and healthy life.
‘If you smoke, consider quitting as this is one of the best steps you can take for your overall health, and the earlier you quit the bigger the benefit.
‘Knowing your numbers – blood pressure and cholesterol – can also help you to spot the early warning signs and take steps to ward off future problems including heart attacks and strokes.’
WHO WAS JEANNE CALMENT?
Jeanne Louise Calment holds the Guinness World Record for being the oldest person ever.
Born on February 21, 1875, she is reported to have lived to the age of 122 years and 164 days.
Jeanne Calment, pictured with her Guinness World Record
She passed away in a nursing home in Arles, in the south of France, on August 4, 1997.
Her unparalleled longevity has been the subject of numerous studies, both before and after her death.
She stunned doctors by continuing to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol every day.
Jeanne enjoyed good health for the majority of her life, having even taken up fencing as a hobby at the age of 85.
Ms Calment also claimed to have met the artist Vincent van Gogh, to whom she sold painting canvasses in her father’s shop as a teenager.
‘He was ugly as sin, had a vile temper and smelled of booze,’ she said.
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