Living to 100 – how to get there!

Posted on March 24, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
Woman drinking water

One in three British children born today will celebrate their 100th birthday. The Queen, or King, will be busier than ever sending out centenary birthday greetings and our perception of what is ‘old’ will have changed somewhat. We will surely have to rethink how we plan out the stages of our life as well. So much of our thinking now focuses on packing the ‘big life events’ in the first 40 to 50 years of life: but if you live for 100 years, what’s the rush?

The growing number of centenarians

The Centre for Population Change is currently touring an exhibition around Europe called “How to live to 100 – and enjoy it!” Visitors can discover what their chances are of living to 100, and what factors encourage clearing a century, including early years, lifestyle, work and where we live. The organisers have hit on the key issue of ageing: if we’re going to live for that many years, how can we maximise our ability to enjoy it? It also poses big issues for governments and urban planners. The U.N. estimates that the number of centenarians worldwide will increase from 320,000 to 3.2 million by 2050, and in Europe, one in four working age people are retired, but by 2060 that will be one in every two.

Calculate your life expectancy

If you’re feeling brave perhaps you’d like to try this Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calendar. I gave it a whirl and was pleasantly surprised at the results. I might not quite make it to 100, but I won’t be far off it apparently. So, could I improve it and notch up 100? Yes, providing I make a few lifestyle changes, says the Telegraph Food and Drink journalist Rachel Thompson.

Olive oil and Mediterranean style food media

Take dietary advice from Ikaria, Okinawa and Sardinia

Ikaria in Greece has the highest proportion of 90-year-olds globally. Ikaria is an island in the Aegean, near to the better-known holiday island of Samos. The island is mountainous, so it’s residents are forced to walk up a lot of hills. This exercise and a diet that has copious amounts of olive oil and a diet abundant in fresh vegetables and fruit, plus the absence of processed foods is thought to be the key to their longevity. They also drink a herbal tea several times daily  that contains spleenwort, purple sage, thyme and mint that could contribute to their excellent health.

Over in Okinawa, a healthy diet of fish and vegetables is a life prolonger. These Japanese islanders eat squid and octopus, both seafoods that lower cholesterol and blood pressure, plus they prefer sweet potatoes to our white ones, and these are high in antioxidants and have a low glycaemic index, which means they have less impact on your blood sugar levels. The Sardinians don’t eat much meat either and drink a red wine high in antioxidant polyphenols. Drunk in moderation this wine may delay the ageing process. Cheers!

Exercise and make friends

Men’s Fitness online magazine, naturally puts some emphasis on the importance of fitness for adding years to your life. One of its contributors, Dr Mehmet Oz suggests that it is better to be a bit overweight and fit, than thin and unfit. He also points out that social relationships play an important factor. That explains the questions about friendships in the Life Expectancy Calculator! Communities with more longevity all spend more time with friends, family or spouses than on their own.

Longevity science is the new ‘gold rush’

So, if we change our diet, do at least some exercise and maintain good relationships (I wonder if Facebook counts, or is that the friendship equivalent of processed food?) we should be on the right course for a ripe old age. But, to return to my earlier point: how will this change our lives? According to Gregg Easterbrook writing in The Atlantic, the rise in life expectancy since the 1800s resembles an escalator ride; smooth and constant. What’s more the statistics don’t factor in any major medical breakthroughs.

Gregg proposes that if we look at the upside of longevity – rather than the downside that includes healthcare costs, increased pension payouts and a social imbalance where the old dominate society – we can anticipate working longer, but maintaining the vitality needed to do that. It may also mean that we don’t need to feel that if we haven’t achieved a dream by age 50, then there’s no chance of it happening. We can start a new business and have several careers in one life span. And, the challenge of doing that will help us live longer as well!

Plus there are numerous scientific establishments investigating ways to slow ageing. Longevity science is the new ‘gold rush.’ Gregg suggests that the scientists are delving into the idea that ageing is the cause of individual conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, stroke and cancer, and that treating the ageing process, rather than the conditions, is the new goal.

Note to self: buy some mackerel or squid, some green broccoli, sweet potatoes and olive oil. Buy exercise bike, or join gym, and meet a friend for one or two glasses of red wine at least once weekly. Start a new business or learn a new skill, and finally figure out Sudoku.

That’s the basic recipe for living to 100, and enjoying getting there. I might just make it!

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.