Living to 100 : The Secret The Health Harvard University

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Living to 100:
the Secret?
Harvard Medical School
Trusted Advice for a Healthier Life

Living to 100: What’s the Secret?
Forget about Generation X and Generation Y. Today, the nation’s most intriguing
demographic is Generation Roman numeral C—folks age 100 and over. In the United
States, the number of centenarians doubled in the 1980s and did so again in the 1990s.
The total now exceeds 70,000. By 2050, according to midrange projections, there could
be over 800,000 Americans who celebrate the century mark. Studies show the same trend
in other industrialized countries and recently in China. Indeed, demographers are now
counting the number of supercentenarians, people age 110 and over.
The swelling population of people age 100 and over has given researchers an opportunity
to answer some of the most fundamental questions about human health and longevity:
What does it take to live a long life? How much do diet, exercise, and other lifestyle
factors matter compared with “good” genes? And, perhaps most importantly, what is the
quality of life among the “old old”? Does getting older inevitably mean getting sicker, or
can people remain productive, social, and independent on their 100th birthday and

Centenarian Studies
There are a dozen or so centenarian studies. A
health-advice book has been published based on
findings from the centenarian study in Okinawa,
where the average life expectancy, 81.2 years, is the
highest in the world. There are active centenarian
studies in Italy, Sweden, and Denmark. For the most
part, results from these studies belie the myth that
the oldest old are doddering and dependent. Some
harsh demographic selection may come into play.
Frail individuals die sooner, leaving only a relatively
robust group still alive. In fact, one of the rewards of
living a long life is that, for the most part, the “extra” years are healthy years.
Physical activity is a recurring theme: the people in these studies are walkers, bikers, and
golfers. In Okinawa, centenarians do tai chi and karate. People who live to 100 and
beyond exercise their brains, too, by reading, painting, and playing musical instruments.
Some continue to work, an indication that our love affair with retirement may be a mixed

100 is still old
This isn’t to say that centenarians escape unscathed. Although 75% of the people in the
New England study were well enough to live at home and take care of themselves at age
95, this number dropped to 30% by age 102. About ...
Trusted Advice for a Healthier Life
Living to 100:
the Secret?
Harvard Medical School
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