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The Healthy Habits of Centenarians

Looking for the secret to the fountain of youth? Alas, there is no real way to stop the aging process.

But studies on people who live into their nineties and beyond offer several clues that may play a role in living longer and enjoying a high quality of life at a ripe old age.

Studies of twins suggest that environment, diet and lifestyle combined have a far greater influence than genes in how long you live. In fact, about 75 percent of known longevity factors are in your control.

Though there is no one formula, several lifestyle behaviors can influence longevity and physical and mental well-being. These involve eating well, exercising and using strategies to reduce stress, keep your mind active and stay positive.

By taking charge, you can have a real impact on your health and well-being. To improve your chances for a long healthy life, adopt some of the following habits of healthy, active centenarians - people who have lived well into their 10th and 11th decades:

Mind what goes into your body. Centenarians tend to eat well (but not overeat), refrain from smoking and drink moderately (or not at all). Your best bet is to choose wholesome foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and a variety of fatty fish or fish oil supplements for a dose of omega-3 fats. These foods provide the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber that can help prevent chronic disease and keep weight and blood pressure in check. Some animal studies have also shown a link with calorie restriction and longer life. More research is needed, though, to see how this may affect humans.

Get moving. Experts agree there is no gray area when it comes to moving your body. Exercise is a proven way to prevent or delay many conditions like obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis and heart problems. It can also ease arthritis pain, anxiety, stress and depression, which can all affect the aging process. Exercise also helps to reduce weight and blood pressure - factors shown to have a major impact on mortality.

Use your brain. Centenarians tend to engage in new and different activities and hobbies as they age. This may involve a second career, volunteering, taking up a musical instrument, writing or travel. Things that involve concentration, like crossword puzzles or reading, are often helpful.

Connect. Having a network of friends is part of the recipe for staying healthy. Whether this is through your church, family, volunteer work, leisure activities or community, it's important to find someone and something you can connect with. This feeds into the desire to be needed and can give you a sense of purpose and belonging. Feeling connected can also help to reduce stress.

Be faithful. There is a link between religion - no matter what faith - and better mental health and well-being, research suggests. High levels of religious belief appear to help older adults in overall coping abilities and their positive outlook on life. Further, prayer - like meditation or yoga - may calm you, help lower blood pressure and bring "inner peace."

Practice attitude and gratitude. People who live past 100 are generally better at handling stress and managing their emotions. They don't dwell on things that cause stress in their lives. Good mental health goes hand-in-hand with good physical health. Having good humor, feeling gratitude and a positive attitude are important, too. Try making a list of things you're grateful for to generate positive energy.


* National Institute of Health. Prayer and spirituality in health: ancient practices, modern science. Accessed: 02/18/2009

* Curlin FA, Sellergren SA, Lantos JD, Chin MH. Physicians' observations and interpretations of the influence of religion and spirituality on health. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2007;167(7):649-654. Accessed: 02/18/2009

* Yates LB, Djoussé L, Kurth T, Buring JE, Gaziano JM. Exceptional longevity in men. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2008;168(3):284-290. Accessed: 02/18/2009