There are a handful of regions across the globe where people frequently live to be 100 or older, where age-related diseases are less common, and where healthy, unprocessed foods are readily and easily accessible. Unfortunately, in a place like the United States, where processed foods are more prevalent and many people live a more sedentary lifestyle, these longevity benefits are almost unheard of.
But while longevity isn’t as pronounced in this part of the world as it is in areas like the so-called Blue Zones, there are still people who have defied the odds and are living well into their eighties, nineties, and even past 100. Thankfully, we had the privilege of talking with three people in their nineties to learn more about their secrets to their longevity.
We spoke with Margaret A. (age 93), Nana Pasqualina (age 96), and Phillip H. (age 91) about the things they believe have contributed to a long, healthy life. Read on, and for more health tips check out The Best Eating Habits of the Longest Living People.
Nana Pasqualina is 96 years old, and she attributes her long life to spending plenty of time with her family. “It’s for my grandchildren. I lost my husband years ago, so I’ve been living with my son and daughter-in-law for over 30 years. In that time my grandchildren were born and it brings me joy to see them every day. I always ask for them. They’re the loves of my life, they’re my world,” she says.
Pasqualina’s granddaughter, Kayla (a writer at Eat This, Not That!), has always noticed her grandmother’s love for her family. “Although age gets the best of her sometimes, she always asks about her grandkids (me and my brother),” says Kayla. “No matter where we are, or what we’re doing, she will see us and act so surprised and happy, like she hasn’t seen us in years.”
Phillip H. is a healthy 91-year-old man who says he “plans on making it to 110.” And one of his major longevity secrets? He says that the reason he has made it this far is that he “never stops moving.”
“I still walk almost every morning,” says Phillip. “And if my body doesn’t feel like moving as much that day, I take a dip in the pool. I know that I will keep moving my body until I no longer can.”
This longevity secret is popular around the world, too. In many Blue Zone regions, centenarians attribute their health to natural movement like walking or gardening. In Okinawa, Japan, the act of sitting on the floor and standing back up multiple times a day contributes to their longevity as well.
Although Phillip is dedicated to his routine and rarely breaks his movement habits, he also believes in enjoying life’s pleasures. “Eating healthy when you can is important, but I think everyone should be enjoying the little things that make you happy. Go out there, drink that wine, eat that cupcake, and enjoy sex with the person you love.”
Along the same lines of Phillip’s advice to enjoy what you find to be pleasurable, Margaret A., who is 93 years old, believes in treating yourself to your favorite foods. According to Margaret’s daughter, Susan, Margaret has always had a sweet tooth and seems to “never say no to a handful of M&Ms or bar of chocolate.”
Margaret isn’t the only person who has enjoyed sweets as she’s aged. The world’s oldest woman, Jeanne Calment, ate nearly two pounds of chocolate every week until she passed at 122 years old.
Margaret’s daughter Susan says that even though her mother has always treated herself to the sweets she wants, she also never overdoes it on the amount of food she is eating. “My mother eats very average-sized meals and is always shocked at how large the portions are at restaurants.”
This is similar to many of the ways people in the Blue Zone regions approach food. In Loma Linda, California, the only American Blue Zone, people regularly eat their biggest meal in the morning but eat smaller meals later on in the day. In Okinawa, Japan, people commonly practice the 80/20 rule, meaning they only eat until they’re 80% full.
In fact, although the quality of your diet absolutely still matters, the American Heart Association has said recently that watching your calories and portion sizes is crucial for lowering your risk of heart disease.
And lastly, Margaret A.’s daughter points out that her mother reads every single morning and night, and does a crossword puzzle multiple times a week. “I’ve noticed that my mom never stops wanting to learn. She reads a lot of mystery novels, but she’s always sprinkling in history books as well. And I don’t think she’s ever skipped a week of crossword puzzles.”
As you can see, many of the longevity secrets shared with us have to do with actually enjoying your life to your fullest ability. Treating yourself, enjoying pleasure, going on walks, and spending time with your loved ones carry a lot of weight when it comes to living a longer life.