What’s The Key To A Long Life? Longevity Tips From Centenarians And Science

With rising interest in longevity and an upward trajectory of life expectancy, it may someday become possible, and perhaps even normal, to live well into our hundreds.

By history’s standards, today’s life expectancy of 71 is stellar, and can be credited mostly to amazing achievement is science and medicine. Retirement planning issues aside, to live long long and prosper, a la Spock from Star Trek, is a good thing, and a remarkable one for the world’s centenarians — those who’ve exceeded the 100 mark.

But science and medicine may not be totally to credit for the anomalies that live long enough to revisit years in the teens and twenties. Ask them, and they’ll credit their longevity to all sorts of things, both wild and banal.

You can decide whether to lead by example in hopes of reaching your sweet 116. Here are some of the best things centenarians credit their longevity.

For 108, try:

Whisky, cigars, and staying out of trouble. Richard Overton, America’s oldest living veteran, drinks whisky (sometimes in his coffee) and smokes cigars daily, drives and does yard work. But he thinks “staying out of trouble” is the true key to longevity.

Science says:

  • Studies show whiskey can slow the onset of dementia, prevent diabetes, and strengthen the immune system.
  • According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no “safe” tobacco product — even those not inhaled like cigars.
  • One reason men have lower life expectancies than women is “risky behavior” that leads to accidents, death, or homicide

For age 112, try:

Bananas and painkillers. Salustiano Sanchez-Blazquez ate a banana a day and reckoned this habit, plus Anacin tablets (containing an aspirin and caffeine combo), earned him the title of world’s oldest man in 2013’s Guinness Book of World Records.

Science says:

  • Bananas have cardiovascular and digestive benefits, and keep energy levels steady.
  • Anacin blocks body chemicals that cause pain and reduce the chance of blood clotting.

For age 115, try:

Raw eggs and single living. Emma Morano, oldest person in Europe, credits her longevity to consuming 100,000 raw eggs in her lifetime (about 3 a day since her teens) and staying single since ‘38 because she “didn’t want to be dominated by anyone.”

Science says:

  • Raw eggs have more nutrients uncooked, are rich in vitamins and cholesterol, and good for you liver, brain, and skin.
  • Being single has actually be found to lower life expectancy. However, being self confident leads to longer, healthier lives.


A sense of humor and boiled corn. Emiliano Mercado Del Toro, world’s oldest military veteran who died in 2007 at 115, said his daily dish of boiled corn, cod, and cream, (called funche) along with his humorous anecdotes made him the world’s oldest person ever for six weeks.

Science says:

  • Laughing is good for you. It relaxes the body, boosts the immune system, and protects the heart.
  • There have been no definitive studies on funche, though boiled corn is a great source of vitamin C and fiber.

For 116, try:

Avoiding junk food and minding your own business. Besse Cooper, who died in 2012 at age 116, was believed to be the oldest person in the world at the time. When asked the secret to longevity, she said she minded her own business and didn’t eat junk food. (It’s possible the former was a dig at the reporter.)

Science says:

  • Listen to Besse and say no to junk food — it increases the likelihood of stroke or diabetes.
  • Those who worry less (in this case, about other people’s business) do live longer, while those who are stressed live 16 years shorter on average.

For 122, try:

Chocolate, cigarettes, and olive oil. Jeanne Calment was the world’s oldest documented person before she died at 122 in 1997. Her secret? She ate two pounds of chocolate a week, treated her skin with olive oil, and smoked two cigarettes a day for nearly a century.

Science says:

  • Chocolate has some surprisingly good health benefits. Here’s a list of 12 proven benefits of dark chocolate, from our friends at Positive Health Wellness.
  • Smoking is never healthy — in fact, smoking two cigarettes a day is thought to shave 30 minutes off your life, per day.
  • Olive oil was used historically as an anti-aging serum, and contains major antioxidants that cleanse and protect the skin.


No booze, women, or smoking. While those like Overton and Calment indulged, Russia’s Magomed Labazanov, who died in in 2012 as world’s oldest man, reckoned that abstaining from sinful pleasures of the world (including alcohol, tobacco, and women) allowed him such a long existence.

Science says:

  • Though some drinkers outlive nondrinkers, it’s generally agreed upon that both heavy drinking and smoking lower life expectancy.
  • Abstaining from women is not necessarily a good thing. Studies show that being married and having regular sex increases life expectancy.

For 123, try:

Walking and hanging out with animals. Carmelo Flores Laura, who is the oldest person ever documented (if Bolivia’s public records are correct), said in 2013 that walking a lot and going out with the animals kept him healthy. He also chews coca leaves and avoids rice and noodles.

Science says:

  • Walking is great for longevity; this kind of leisurely physical activity adds 4.5 years to your life, and every minute of exercise adds 7 minutes.
  • Animals are therapeutic, and add structure and meaning to people’s lives. Those that care for animals have lower blood pressure and stress level than those without, and live longer lives in general.

Updated. Cover photos of Jeanne CalmentSalustiano SanchezEmiliano Mercado Del Toro, and Besse Cooper via Wikipedia.

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert