What are The Secrets of Centenarians?

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Ever wonder why some people live to be 100 or more years old and other people don’t?

It’s certainly a question worth asking.

And although “sheer luck” could very well be a factor, it really seems to come down to a combination of good genes and healthy living.

If you're interested in living to be 100 or older, perhaps you should consider taking some notes.

Below are a few of the so-called “secrets” of centenarians that you may find interesting.

1. Centenarians Live in the Right Place

Certain areas of the world have more centenarians than other places, plain and simple. These places are often referred to as “blue zones.”

Some notable “blue zones” include Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Icaria, Greece.1

Now, should you pack up and move to one of these locations? Probably not, but it may not be a bad idea to study their local diets and behaviors for inspiration.

2. Centenarians Have Good Genes

One interesting study found that Ashkenazi Jews who lived to their 100’s had a genetic mutation for the enzyme telomerase.2 In fact, their cells expressed it at a higher level.

Telomerase elongates telomeres, which are protective caps at the ends of your chromosomes. Research shows that longer telomeres are associated with a longer lifespan.3

Looking for some help in this area? Higher omega-3 levels in the blood correlate with longer telomeres,4 and exercise helps too.5

So you may want to double-check your omega-3 intake and get moving if you’re not doing so already.

3. Centenarians Eat Really Well

Does this come as a surprise to you? We didn’t think it would.

Regardless, countless studies have shown that your diet can make a huge impact on your health. However, certain types of diets are more favorable to longevity than others.

Here are some of the dietary habits commonly associated with longevity:

1. Caloric restriction diets:

The Okinawans are among the longest living people in the world. They eat a calorically restricted diet, ingesting roughly around 1,200 calories a day.6

Research has shown that caloric restriction can increase the life span of animals. It activates a set of genes called sirtuins, which help animals live longer.7 Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine, activates these genes as well.7

2. Plant-based and low-glycemic diets:

The Okinawans eat a plant-based, low-glycemic diet. On average they eat about 300 grams of vegetables a day (1.3 cups). Their diet is rich in tofu, yellow-green vegetables, and goya — also known as bitter melon.6

In the Sicani Mountains, a region in Italy, the centenarians strictly follow a low-glycemic, Mediterranean diet.8

4. Centenarians Have Less Oxidative Stress

Catalase and glutathione protect our cells against aging, and our levels tend to decline with age.

In a Spanish study, centenarians had higher serum catalase levels than people in their 30’s. Their glutathione levels were similar to those of young adults.9

Centenarians also have lower markers of oxidative stress, which include malondialdehyde (MDA), thiobarbituric acid (TBARS), and lipid hydroperoxides (LPO).10

Nutrients that boost catalase or glutathione levels include bitter melon11 and lipoic acid,12 respectively. So you may consider working them into your regimen.

5. Centenarians Have Stronger Immune Systems

Loss of immune function is usually regarded as a normal part of aging. However, one particularly interesting study showed that centenarians could be an exception to this rule.

In the study, researchers found that the centenarians’ neutrophils (immune fighting blood cells) were similar to adults in their 30’s. In fact, they even fared better than their middle-aged counterparts.9

What could this possibly mean? Well, for starters, it’s another reminder that a healthy immune system is absolutely crucial to living a long life.

If you’re interested in boosting your own immune system, aged garlic extract13 and vitamin D14 are two primary immune-boosting nutrients you should definitely work into your regimen.

6. Most Centenarians are Physically Active

Okinawan centenarians are known to regularly engage in light physical activity, which includes tai-chi and gardening.6

A survey conducted by UnitedHealthcare, an American health insurance company, showed that 65% of its enrolled centenarians were physically active.15 Need we say more?

The Bottom Line

Do these really seem like “secrets” to you? Probably not. In fact, they just emphasize what we’ve known all along: A healthy lifestyle promotes a long life.

Also worth noting is that the proportion of centenarians has increased significantly within the last few decades.16 What does this mean to you? That you could very well live to 100 if you play your cards right.

If you’re serious about increasing your chances of going the distance, make healthy changes to your life sooner than later. Who knows? You just might make it to the 100 club!


  1. Available at: http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2011/sep2011_Mark-Wexler-Learning-How-to-Live-Forever_01.htm. Accessed November 7th, 2012.
  2. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2010 Jan 26;107 Suppl 1:1710-7. Epub 2009 Nov 13.
  3. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2012 Jan 31;109(5):1743-8. Epub 2012 Jan 9.
  4. JAMA. 2010 Jan 20;303(3):250-7.
  5. Arch Intern Med. 2008 Jan 28;168(2):154-8.
  6. Indian J Community Med. 2009 October; 34(4): 273–275.
  7. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2012 Jun 1;11(6):443-61. 8. Immun Ageing. 2012 Apr 23;9(1):10.
  8. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2008 Dec;56(12):2244-51.
  9. J Am Geriatr Soc. 1998 Jul;46(7):833-8.
  10. J Nutr. 2011 Sep;141(9):1664-72.
  11. Neurochem Int. 2012 Sep 17. pii: S0197-0186(12)00288-4. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2012.09.003. [Epub ahead of print]
  12. Clin Nutr. 2012 Jun;31(3):337-44. 14. Dermatoendocrinol. 2011 Oct;3(4):220-9.
  13. Available at: http://www.unitedhealthgroup.com/news/rel2012/UnitedHealthcare100at100SurveyReport.pdf. Accessed November 7th 2012.
  14. Available at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/newsroom/1999/06/new-census-report-shows-exponential-growth-number-centenarians. Accessed November 7th 2012.


San Antonio Conference said...

Yes, That's true. One thing why Centenarians live long it's because of what they eat. I totally agree.

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