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23 People That Lived to 100 Spill Their Secrets of Longevity

Secret to Longevity

The Secret to Longevity

Ever since I was a kid, I was always curious about the secrets to longevity and what made people live to 100.  I mean, 100 is kind of a random number, but triple digits?! That’s pretty amazing – there must be some kind of secret.  Seeing as you usually hear that people’s grandparents die in their 70s or 80s I was totally intrigued by these long-lived peeps.

My great grandma, who I knew until I was about 10 years old, lived to her later 90’s, 97 or 98 — and I was still hanging out with her at that age talking about life. Unfortunately since I was so young, the only thing I remember was how creepy she was. She was really small. Really thin. And really veiny.

Anyway, as I got older I became more interested in longevity not because I actually wanted to live to 120, but because the kinds of people that live to 120 are the ones who usually enjoy an unprecedented quality of life throughout their lives.

The people who take good enough care of themselves to live to that ripe, old age, also suffer from a fraction (or none) of the health problems that plague the majority of people today.

Interestingly enough, as I researched the “secrets to their longevity” I found much of the same advice, over and over.

You can find that advice below.

Exclusive Bonus: Download this bonus guide that tells the story of how a Chinese herbalist lived to 200+ and his 4 pieces of advice.

23 People That Lived to 100 Share Their Secrets

#1 Jeanne Calment, 122

Based on her Wikipedia entry,  at age 85, she took up fencing and continued to ride her bicycle up until her 100th birthday. She was reportedly neither athletic, nor fanatical about her health.

Calment lived on her own until shortly before her 110th birthday, when it was decided that she needed to be moved to a nursing home after a cooking accident (she was having complications with sight) started a small fire in her house.

Calment smoked from the age of 21 to 117, though according to an unspecified source, she smoked no more than two cigarettes per day. (Damn babygirl you smoked for 100 years?!) 

Calment ascribed her longevity and relatively youthful appearance for her age to olive oil, which she said she poured on all her food and rubbed onto her skin, as well as a diet of port wine, and ate nearly one kilogram (2.2 lb) of chocolate every week.

Not a bad life, eh? Smoke, drink and eat chocolate.

#2 Sarah Knauss, 119

Based on biographical information via Wikipedia:

Her only child, Kathryn Knauss Sullivan, who was 96 at the time of Sarah’s death and lived to be 101 herself, once explained Knauss’ longevity by saying: “She’s a very tranquil person and nothing fazes her. That’s why she’s living this long.”

#3 Christian Mortensen, 115

On his 115th birthday Mortensen gave his advice for a long life: “Friends, a good cigar, drinking lots of good water, no alcohol, staying positive and lots of singing will keep you alive for a long time.”

#4 Emiliano Mercado Del Toro, 115

He credited his longevity to funche, a boiled corn, codfish and milk cream-like dish, which he ate every day as a habit. Mercado also claimed that his sense of humor was probably responsible for his long life, and he would tell jokes and humorous anecdotes almost to the end of his days.

He would not elaborate on details of his love life, but would humorously hint about them: in one of the many interviews he gave to Puerto Rican media, Mercado claimed to have been at the “dancing club” (a euphemism for a bordello) owned by Isabel la Negra the day she was assassinated.

He was 82 years old at the time and reportedly hid under a table when Oppenheimer’s killers started firing gunshots. Asked what he was doing there, he said: “praying… or at least I was when the bullets started flying!”


Secret to Longevity

Besse Cooper, 116

“Mind your own business and don’t eat junk food. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated, work hard and love what you do.”

Bel Kaufman, 101

Laughter keeps you healthy. You can survive by seeing the humor in everything. Thumb your nose at sadness; turn the tables on tragedy. You can’t laugh and be angry, you can’t laugh and feel sad, you can’t laugh and feel envious.

Anthony Mancinelli, 101

Do the right thing, don’t smoke, don’t drink, eat right and don’t overdo it. If you need a little extra help, take some vitamins. Going to work is what keeps me going.

Ruth Gruber, 101

Look inside your soul and find your tools. We all have tools and have to live with the help of them. I have two tools, my words and my images. I used my typewriter, computer and my cameras to fight injustice. Whenever I see a possibility of helping people who are in danger, I want to help them.

Secret to Longevity

Dr. Laila Denmark, 114

Eat right and do what you love. Whatever you love to do is play; doing what you don’t like to do is work. I have never worked a day in my life!

Bonita Zigrang, 108

Have a good appetite, lots of friends, and keep busy.

Benjamin Goldfaden, 99

Stay active… even at 100. Eat in a balanced way… Don’t stay mad at anything–you have to get used to the losses, otherwise you can’t win. Lastly, stay close with your family, they keep you thinking.

Samuel Ball, 102

Have a good wife, two scotches a night, and be easy-going.

Irving Kahn, 106

It is very important to have a widespread curiosity about life.

Secret to Longevity

Helen Mulligan, 101

Take it easy, enjoy life, what will be will be. Sleep well, have a Bailey’s Irish Cream before bed if you have a cold–you will wake up fine the next morning.

Ebby Halliday, 101

Don’t smoke, don’t drink, and don’t retire!

Gilbert Herrick, 100

Take one day at a time and go along with the tide.

Secret to Longevity

Lillian Modell, 100

Keep busy! Do things that you’ve never done before.

Gussie Levine, 100

Don’t fight the day, just let it be. Get up and be positive. Avoid any and all drama; I don’t get involved with silly minutiae or difficult personalities; people respect me for that.

Jennie Cascone, 100

Be good, don’t complain, just get up and do. Keep on working, keep on going, and have a good time.

Murray Shusterman, 100

Get involved. You’ll find pleasure and sometimes disappointment but there is a sense of achievement if you participate in a successful undertaking, whether it is organizational or professional. Work hard, it will pay off.

Loretta Hodge, 102

Whatever is hard, you make hard, but if you take it as it comes, it doesn’t come hard. Don’t worry, don’t want so much, and be satisfied with what you’ve got. Be willing to share with your friends and those less fortunate.

Secret to Longevity

Miriam Henson, 105

You must keep active or you will just wither away. Always be involved in some activity.

Barbara Brody, 102

You have to make the best out of your life and have a good attitude.

Winifred Thomas, 101

When you live for God, talk to him, go to church, have nice people around you; that is the best medicine. God provides for you. Sometimes you don’t know when it is coming, but it is coming.

Secret to Longevity

Honorable Mentions (95+)

Hilda Berner, 97

Try to understand the kind of person you are and accept who you are; but if you want to improve your situation, change it. Keep your eye on the stars and try to succeed at what you want to do.

Irving Ladimer, 96

For a long, healthy life, you need a plan and a purpose. It could be family, writing a book, becoming president. Without a purpose, plan or objective, what do you need?

Alyse Laemmle, 96

Never run out of responsibility; if you don’t have one, find one. Find a cause and knock yourself out for it. It will enhance your brainpower, interest in life, and keep you alive longer. I’m alert because I work. Virtue is its own reward.

Gardner Watts – 98

My longevity is attributed to my long happy marriage. We did everything together. She was perfect in my eyes.

Secret to Longevity

The Secrets Behind All of These Long-Living People Are Surprisingly The Same

You know what’s cool?

There are definitely a few things repeated over and over.

I went back through the list and wrote down the top 5 things that appeared the most frequently. Do you know what they were?

The most commonly cited things:

  1. Keep a calm mind – Stay calm and relaxed and don’t let your feathers get ruffled. This  is the same advice the supposedly 256 year old Li Ching Yuen said, in addition to his three other secrets.
  2. Don’t retire- Stay curious about life, do work you love, and continue to do activities and participate in the community.
  3. Eating right and staying active (traditional longevity)
  4. Friends, social networks, and family – One of the longest running Harvard studies of all time follow men from college to the present day. George Vaillant commented that [in regard to happiness and life satisfaction] “There is 70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in this world.”
  5. Have a hell of a good time – Just a general love for life, a constant curiosity and desire to learn, grow and live

[See Also: A 256 Year Old Man Reveals His 4 Secrets to His Longevity]

What About You?

I think that many of us intuitively know some of the things that contribute to a long life, like relaxing and enjoying life, keeping your mind busy, and obviously eating right and exercising.

One of the craziest things I’ve come across in the past few years is that some people have willed themselves to death. In extreme survival situations, people have been found in safe, secure places, with food and water, who simply gave up. Sometimes there was a journal, but other times these people had no verifiable medical reason for their death. They just didn’t want to fight.

The external is seriously overrated in our society –  people seem to neglect the power of the mind to make a person happy or miserable, successful or unsuccessful, lazy or driven.

The oldest woman in the world smoked every day for almost 100 years. Was she lucky? Maybe.

But listen to all of these people talk — they just freaking love life. “A good cigar, a glass of wine, some chocolate, and good friends.” They’re living the good life – no wonder they want to go on living.

So what about you? Do you know anyone who lived to a ripe-old age? What do you think contributed to it?

And here’s the one health book you should read this year:

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It’s not about stupid eating less and moving more advice.

It’s not about willpower, discipline and “grinding it out.”

It all comes down to habits – just a few in particular.

I cover all of them in my book Master The Day: Eat, Move and Live Better With The Power of Tiny Habits.

Check it out on Amazon here.

There are over 55 5-star reviews now. What are you waiting for?

— Alex



Sources: Some adapted from the book Extraordinary Centenarians in America.

Other quotes were compiled from interviews listed in Wikipedia.

Images: Indian Man, Countryside, Empire State Building, Puzzle, Bridge, Sunset, Ice & Sunset, Green Vegetable, Desert

Have You Read My New Book Yet?

  Read more about this in my book Master The Day. You’ll learn the nine daily success habits I learned interviewing people that lost 100+ pounds and kept it off in a healthy way – by changing their habits. Plus, you’ll get a free $100 bonus video course if you show me your receipt. You can get the audiobook here too.

31 comments… add one

  1. “Damn babygirl you smoked for 100 years?!” made me literally laugh out loud. While reading through these things, the biggest common thread I saw was a lack of anxiety and stress. Almost everyone had something related whether it was “be content” or “take life as it comes” or even “relax and have some scotch” – those all are manifestations of a lack of anxiety in my eyes. Good thing I’m working on not being stressed this month!

    1. Susie –

      Haha you know! The French gotta keep it real 😉

      Yeah I totally agree though – that was the biggest thing I noticed too, which is pretty interesting. It’s also a little disconcerting because I’m a champion at stressing myself out. Time to go sit in a hot tub and get a Swedish massage I guess, haha.

      — Alex

  2. Do you know where that place is in the image below
    Irving Kahn, 106
    It is very important to have a widespread curiosity about life?

    Also, it is so true – the people, family, friends we care for really do matter more than anything else. And a happy mind. Not pressure or judgement upon oneself to be a certain way. Rules to live by.

    1. Hi Winters,

      Actually I’m not sure where! Sorry 🙁

      Gotta keep the mind quiet and just enjoy life, eh! The common theme.

      — Alex

  3. I have a papa that is pushing 100 the only thing I have noticed is he eats alot of cashews. He also smoked for about 70 plus years. I think it has alot to do with genetics. I am 40 and still get carded for a six pack of beer….lol …. It’s all about the cards we are dealt at birth and we can’t control everything about that……yet.

    1. You mean nature vs. nurture?

      1. be always optimist everything is possible

        1. It seems to be one of the secrets to longevity 🙂

  4. I’d be happy if I even reach 60.
    I agree with Besse on “minding your own business”.
    But if I were to leave advice, stay out of processed food, stay active, don’t sweat the small stuff, keep an open mind and laugh a lot.
    Let go. Let go. Let go…. and let nature take its course.

    1. Hey Christi –

      Hah exactly! it seems like most of these people just chilled out and stopped trying to fight life every day. Gotta have fun at the end of the day 🙂

  5. laughter is the key!

    1. That’s for sure george!

  6. Interesting article! Most of these folks had a positive carefree attitude towards life and a healthy lifestyle . However, the role of genetics is primal as studies have shown. Its like if you want to be tall, have tall parents. Same applies here. Genetics plus a healthy lifestyle: recipe for a long life.
    Can’t alter the genes but can modify our lifestyle. Thing is when we are young and full of energy we feel who wants to live for 100 long years lets have another pint nd a smoke . Enjoy now. Is it worth it to live so long when at that age you can’t do half of stuff what you can when you are young. Perhaps as one ages priorities change.

    1. Too true Mayank! It’s tough balancing enjoying life now, with preparing for the future though eh?

  7. Great article. Enjoyed it very much. Funny and Real. Me, too, always been curious how people live sooo long.

  8. I work in a nursing home and our highest functioning resident is 101 and she still washes our dishes and folds our face cloths by choice. Very sweet calm lady who keeps to herself. What we also see a lot of is people living very old into their late 90’s even 100 who have dementia and alzheimers in vegetative states, its hard to think about sometimes. I think it has a lot to do with what we eat and toxins that are and aren’t in our environments, I think that some booze is ok but not too much, Its seems to me the oldest residents are very calm ,busy ,joyful,positive, people. That must be key I’m guessing

  9. This was a very interesting article. By showing each persons views on living longer gave a little insight into how we can enjoy life as we age. Did you know what the bible teaches? It says you can live forever at… John 3:36 & John 37:29 & Isaiah 26:19

  10. This is a really great article – I also heard a 115 year old man on Mercola summed it up with “eat well, stay active, and continue to learn/grow”.

    Seems like this tie into the main themes you’ve pointed out.
    Thank you!

    1. Glad you liked it Brian –

  11. Everyone knows that the secret to living to 100 years is to live to 99 years and then be very careful.

    1. Hahaha

  12. That was a good research carefully organized. published and well disseminated. The findings of this research agree with some research reports I read on the subject. I think Heyne deserves a lot of thanks for doing a great job. I deeply appreciate his work and will recommend his publications to others.

    Patrick Yalokwu, Ph D.
    Crawford University, Igbesa, Nigeria.

  13. Willing themselves to death…. This was my grandmother, in her 40’s, she stopped driving. She had anxiety about everything! Wanted everyone to do everything for her. She considered herself a senior citizen long before her age said she was. She was also a hypochondriac, wanted to be sick it seemed, wanted meds. She died at the age of 71, but the last 10 years of her life was horrible. Riddled with illness and a fast downward spiral. I am 41 and I think of her often, she is the example of what I don’t want to be. I have her tendencies I many ways, but I fight against them. I have decided to invest in my future, through diet and actual investments like rental properties, as if it will be a long one instead of acting like the end is near. I want to live long. I want to meet my great grandchildren if I can. I want them to remember me as someone strong and active.

  14. Well, presently I am 82. People take me to be in my 50’s. I, myself, take me to be in my 40″s. Really? Yes, indeed.

    I enjoy what I do regarding my longevity agenda. My dedication, discipline, determination, and loyalty to myself and having hobbies such as my fellow birds.. tree swallows, juncos, chickadees, flicker woodpeckers, my special butterfly the danaus plexippus (Monarch) and their breeding, sure keeps me busy during the summer.

    I have a goal of destroying the word record in running the 100 yd. dash when I turn 100. My present goal is to keep myself, by whatever means legal, (absolutely no liquor, tobacco, marijuana, or prohibited drugs). I will do this of my accord, with dignity and a positive attitude. And above all, you simply cannot lie to yourself and expect perfect results. We have so much free advice from the Internet and all we have to do is research it and govern yourself accordingly. Anyone that follows this rule will survive to a ripe old age, well beyond 100 years.

    I thank this site for its presentation and its valuable information.

    1. Love these goals John! I’ll be looking forward to seeing that record.

  15. My great-grandmother died just shy of 95 years old. Recently, I asked her daughter (my grandmother) what she thought her secret was. She lowered her voice, told me to lean in, and whispered: “she was born that way.”

    I think good health and habits will get most of us to early 80s but beyond that it’s the old genetic sleight of hand.

  16. Eat well, stay active, and continue to learn/grow

  17. Im already dead inside

  18. In a couple of month I will be 91. In general the longer I live the less sense humans make to me. Currently the USA seems to have elected a president with no presidential qualifications at all but the previous presidents who seemed better endowed have led to a violently self destructive civilization with very little future possibilities. The wildest ambitions of the most creative and powerful individuals involve a huge eagerness to populate Mars which is a modicum better off than the absolute Hell of Venus but certainly a place with no breathable atmosphere and hardly any water. No doubt it will make a fine cemetery for anybody who can afford the cost of traveling there but Earth still is a reasonable and inexpensive place to die more comfortably on, at least until the war enthusiasts start tossing nuclear weapons. Humans are obviously better endowed with intellect that even the brightest chimpanzee but, as a species, humans never seemed to have developed much sanity. But it does make a great black comedy.

  19. Ay man, this is a good article. I’m a personal trainer and blogger myself, but one thing I’ve come to realize is that, even though physical training and eating right have a big effect, it often seems like the life of the mind and the spirit have an even greater effect. I think about the first lady you mentioned who lived to 122 but smoked for 100 years. But you get the sense that she really enjoyed her life.

  20. Very informative, just tells us that the secret to longevity is self! You alone can determine how to take care of you, then leave the rest to God.


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