Analyzing centenarians and the keys to a long and happy life

Do you want to live to be 100 years old? Most people I speak with on my travels say “no,” with the caveat that if they could be guaranteed good health and happiness, they might consider it. Living a century or more was once a rare occurrence, but with advancements in medicine and understanding the role that lifestyle plays in overall health, it’s not so unusual these days. There are more centenarians than ever before: over 450,000 worldwide.

Dan Buettner and National Geographic studied centenarians around the globe to learn what factors are most important to longevity. Buettner wrote his first book, Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, by interviewing hundreds of people who were 100 or older on their habits and to what they attribute their long lives. He found five Blue Zones, which are areas where there are higher concentrations of older people than in other parts of the world: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece.

Buettner went on to study happiness and the role it plays in longevity. He found that happiness is a choice and is derived only about 40 percent from one’s genes, and about 60 percent from lifestyle choices. Buettner determined these factors are most important in one’s happiness: a job/hobby/activities you love, socializing at least seven hours a day, having love in your life, living in the right home or at least a very comfortable place within your home, and owning a dog. He also identified that believing life is long and easy (as opposed to short and difficult) increases longevity.

What lessons did Buettner and his crew learn?

  • Centenarians do not overeat: virtually none were overweight. Most eat slowly and mindfully; in Okinawa, the expression “Hara hachi bu” means “Eat until you are 80 percent full.”
  • Centenarians have a sense of purpose and look forward to getting up each morning. They strive to learn something new to preserve mental acuity.
  • Those interviewed do not take stress to heart; most of them strive to help others and don’t worry as much about themselves.
  • Most of those 100+ have a strong faith in a higher power and are part of a spiritual community.
  • Most centenarians in the Blue Zones live with family, and older adults are revered.

Habits of Centenarians

  • They move naturally. In the Blue Zones, most people walk everywhere and many maintain gardens.
  • They restrict consumption of meat and processed foods and eat plenty of vegetables and fruit each day.
  • They drink red wine in moderation.
  • They make family and close friends a priority. They associate with those who share their values and steer clear of those who don’t.
  • They get together with neighbors or friends almost daily for socialization.
  • They keep a positive attitude (very difficult to change if you are a pessimist). Buettner did not find a single “grump” in the folks he interviewed.

Read Buettner’s books or go to his website,, to take the True Vitality Test and see how you may be able to extend your life.

This article originally appeared in Warrenton Lifestyle Magazine | July 2018