I first learned about centenarians—people who live to be at least 100—while watching a documentary about happiness on Netflix aptly named Happy. The film follows a variety of people who are inordinately happy in order to determine the secrets to the elusive feeling. According to the doc, a great number of these people are centenarians living in communities together in various places around the world.
One that stuck out most to me was a small community of happy, healthy elderly people in Greece who lived off the land, ate a Mediterranean diet, and drank wine every day. I decided right then and there that I wanted to move to Ikaria and live the centenarian lifestyle (a goal I've yet to achieve but haven't given up on yet). When a recent health and wellness event introduced me to a woman who studied why centenarians have the rest of us beat when it comes to longer living, I had to know more.
"These people are able to live with no disease, no medication, and are full of energy and vibrancy well beyond their years," explains Riley Rearden, a nutrition expert with a background in biochemistry who has spent years investigating the effects of various lifestyle habits on cellular aging. What's their secret to not only living longer but living well? According to Rearden, it comes down to lifestyle habits, stress levels, environment, and genetics. Ahead, she breaks down seven tips for living like a centenarian. See how many of their healthy habits you can bring into your own life.
1. Eat a plant-based diet
Rearden indicates that centenarians tend to eat a plant-based that's rich in greens, healthy fats, and whole unprocessed foods. She recommends getting protein from greens, nuts, beans, whole grains, and non-GMO soy. If you do eat meat, she suggests seeking out wild or pasture-raised lean meat and to only allow it to make up 15% or less of your plate.
2. Fast overnight
Intermittent fasting has become a bit of a health trend over the past few years, however, it's long been understood as part of a healthy lifestyle. Rearden explains that it mimics caloric restriction without making you feel deprived and has been proven to improve lifespan. She suggests following the 16:8 rule, which stipulates that you stop eating after dinner and wait to eat breakfast until mid-morning. "This also gives your digestive system a necessary break as it works very hard during the eight hours that we do eat during the day," the nutrition expert says.
3. Exercise regularly at a moderate intensity
According to Rearden, all centenarians that have been studied participate in various forms of functional movement. "They don't go to the gym and do bicep curls or HIIT classes; they work on their land, tend to their gardens, or walk to town," she explains. While working on your own land may not be an option when it comes to finding ways to incorporate physical activity into your life, Rearden recommends finding forms of exercise that get your heart rate up and make your body feel strong, lean, and balanced.
4. Meditate regularly
Rearden suggests meditating on a regular basis or finding another suitable way to feel at ease. "Find some form of stress reduction technique that works for you, whether it’s yoga, breath work, tai chi, or some sort of practice that calms the nervous system and lowers your stress hormones and blood pressure," she says.
Finding a community is one of the keys to longer living. "Connect with your people or your tribe often," Rearden says. Be sure you make time in your life for the people who make you happy, support your healthy habits, and hold you accountable.
6. Make time for your passions
It's important to make time for the things you are passionate about and that give you a sense of purpose, according to Rearden. Whether your hobby is art, reading, or playing an instrument, you shouldn't neglect it. "They give us the mental recharge we need, and positively contribute to our health, balance, and productivity," the health and wellness expert says.
It's no secret that getting a good amount of sleep is paramount to your health and well-being. "Even if you think you don't need it, you need it," says Rearden, who suggests aiming for at least seven hours of shut-eye each night. Without proper sleep, you can develop inflammation and oxidative stress, which can lead to other related diseases. "If you can't get to bed early enough, take notes from Ikarian centenarians in Greece who have mastered the afternoon nap," she says.