Living Past 100: Insights from Centenarians on a Long, Healthy Life

Living to more than 100 years of age is a rare feat.

Surviving this long with a good quality of life is even rarer.

What can healthy centenarians teach us about achieving such a lofty goal?

And what can we reasonably expect for ourselves?

Let’s start with some simple facts.

While the average lifespan has increased dramatically over the last 1,000 years, the maximum human lifespan has changed very little.

Even the 10 oldest currently living people are all in the 114 to 116 age bracket.

The oldest living person ever was Jeanne Calment, who lived until 122.

The list of people alive over 110 is short, and most of us, even with our best efforts, are unlikely to reach such an age.

Wikipedia: Oldest Living People

So, what can we reasonably hope for if we are aiming for longevity?

For me, I would consider living to 90 years of age with a reasonable degree of functional and cognitive function intact a win.

Of course, for our final year, no one is guaranteed anything.

But I am not expecting to live beyond 100.

Sure. There may be a quantum leap forward in how we tackle ageing, and I will gladly avail of it if I can, but for now, age 90 is my target.

You have to work out your own age target and how you might increase your odds of hitting it.

So, what can healthy centenarians teach us about hitting our longevity goals?

Firstly, we need to stop paying attention to their ‘healthy living secrets’ of drinking cod liver oil or doing some other obscure daily ritual.


Because when you look at the lifestyles of healthy centenarians, they are as bad if not worse than all the rest of us1.

They routinely do not exercise.

They often smoke.

Their diets are often poor.

So, if it’s not their daily routine, then what is it?

Most likely, it comes down to their genetics.

While genetics doesn’t play a huge role in getting you to 70, it probably plays a huge role in getting you from 70 to 90 without incident 2.

While the exact genes that result in such life extensions are debated, one thing is clear:

They all share one thing in common.

They get the diseases of ageing about 20 to 25 years later than everyone else.

It’s not that they don’t get cardiovascular disease, cancer or dementia; they just get it way later than everyone else.

This is crucial to understand if your goal is extending your lifespan. 


Because even though we may not have their longevity genes we can attempt to replicate the time course of their disease onset.

Most adults, healthy centenarians included, will die from one of three things:

Cardiovascular Disease.



But let’s look at WHEN centenarians get these diseases.

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2012 Apr;67(4):395-405.

As you can see from the above graph, about 50% of people (Controls In White) will have developed a major chronic disease by 70 years of age.

For the semi-supercentenarians (Dark Blue Line) who live until age 105–109 years, they reach the same 50% threshold at about 100 years of age.

For the supercentenarians (Light Blue Line) who live up to 119 years of age, most of them do not have a major chronic disease until well after 100 years of age3.

When broken down by disease category, cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, stroke, osteoarthritis, hypertension and stroke, the pattern is the same.

Much later onset of disease.

So, how do we push out the age at which we will develop major chronic diseases?

The first thing to realise is that while healthy centenarians rely on genetics, we must rely on risk factor control.

Aggressively control the risk factors.

Delay the onset of the disease.

Maybe not to 100 years of age.

But maybe until age 80?

But is there evidence for this approach?


Let’s look at what happens when you get the basics right at age 50:

  • Not smoking

  • Normal BMI

  • Being Active

  • Minimising Alcohol

  • Good Diet

Getting these fundamentals right means the average lifespan extends dramatically.

For males, it goes from 75 years of age to 87.

For females, it goes from 79 years of age to 93.

No magic. No supplements. No ice baths.

Just getting the basics right.

But why do these people live longer?

Because they get the diseases of ageing later in life.

Just like the healthy centenarians.

Maybe not as late as them, but definitely later than those who have poor risk factor profiles.

Let’s see what happens when you get these risk factors right when it comes to the timing of the onset of major chronic diseases.

If you have these factors dialled in by age 50, it can mean you delay the ONSET of a major chronic disease by 8 to 11 years.

This isn’t an extra 8 to 11 years of lifespan; this is an extra 8 to 11 years WITHOUT a disease.

One of the factors that has the biggest impact on healthspan and quality of life is whether you have a major chronic disease such as cancer, cardiovascular disease or dementia.

Avoiding or delaying the onset of one of these diseases is the best way to extend one's lifespan and improve one's quality of life.

It sounds trite to say it but:

You cannot die from a condition you do not have. 

Therefore, the best way of avoiding or delaying death from one of these conditions is not to get one at all or at least get one as late as possible in life.

So much of life comes down to randomness.

People get hit by lightning.

Bad luck strikes, and you get cancer at a young age.

There is very little we can do to avoid these outcomes, but we can set the odds in our favour to delay the onset of the major chronic disease that is likely to be our cause of death.

Right now, whether you like it or not, you are rolling the dice.

So rather than wishful drinking shots of apple cider vinegar in the hope of living to 100, look at what the data says about risk factors and ask yourself honestly how you stack up.

The question is how aggressively you are tilting the odds of health in your favour.

And what your long term goals of lifespan are.

When You Are Ready Here Is How I Can Help You.

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