How To Become A Supercentenarian From A Healthy Aging Expert
It's safe to say longevity is one of our favorite topics here at mindbodygreen. We've waxed poetic on the Blue Zones, centenarians, and general tips to live a long happy life—but let's take the conversation up a notch, shall we?
Healthy aging expert Becca Levy, Ph.D., had the opportunity to interview supercentenarians (aka people 110 years and older) for her new book, Breaking the Age Code. And, well, she found some pretty common patterns, all of which she shares on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. Below, find three of Levy's "extreme longevity" tips to reach supercentenarian status:
Implement positive age beliefs.
Says Levy, how you think about aging can determine how long you live (in fact, that's the subtitle of her book!). She even did the research: She found a data set from Oxford, Ohio, where a sociologist asked participants 50 years and older about their age beliefs, with questions like: "Do you agree or disagree that older people contribute to society?" She then cross-referenced that data with the National Death Index, which keeps track of when everyone in the country dies (yes, this is a thing1).
The results? "We found that those who had taken in more positive age beliefs had a median survival of 7.5 years longer2 than those who had taken more negative age beliefs," she explains. Quite a big difference between those groups.
And in terms of living to 110 plus, your age beliefs may have a profound impact, too. Levy also interviewed supercentenarians in Japan, specifically the longest living woman Kane Tanaka (who just died on April 19, 2022, at 119 years old). "She said she felt like she was in the best time of her life," Levy explains. And when Levy spoke to other researchers who were tracking extreme longevity in Japan, "positive beliefs about aging was a theme that kept on coming up."
Contribute to society.
According to Levy, one of the biggest myths about aging is that older individuals do not contribute to society. It comes up in a bunch of cultural messaging, but research shows it could not be more false. "The motivation to contribute to society and help other people actually increases in later life, and selfish motivations tend to decline," she says. "Studies show that older people are the most likely to recycle. They are the most likely to give to different nonprofits or foundations. Many of them take on volunteer positions that allow them to contribute to society in different ways."
And giving back to the community, science shows, can affect your longevity: Specifically, acts of kindness (dubbed the "Mother Teresa effect3") can actually boost your immune response. "The idea of being generative, to feel needed, is a strength that goes up in later life," says Levy. "But it's also something that we can work on to find."
"We know from a number of studies that people who find more purpose in later life have a long life span," says Levy. Take this study, for example, which shows that people with a sense of meaning in life have better overall physical health.
Of course, purpose can mean different things to different people—there isn't one specific way to find purpose. However, Levy says implementing positive age beliefs can help. It makes sense: If you believe older individuals do contribute to society, you might engage with your community more and feel a sense of belonging (and making quality connections is huge for longevity).
In terms of how you seek out your purpose, though, that's up to you to decide. "[It depends on] what you enjoy and what draws on your strengths," Levy notes. "It could be anything from writing poetry to joining an activist group to coming up with a new form of exercise. So there's a lot of different ways that you can add [purpose] to your life."
"Extreme longevity" is very much a thing, demonstrated by the number of supercentenarians Levy has interviewed for her book. While we can wax poetic on diet strategies and exercise tips to improve your life span, Levy would argue that the way you think about aging plays an even bigger role. In short: It may be possible to "think" yourself younger.
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.