The secrets of enjoying a long life

Community is key. Centenarians maintain strong relationships.

Calodagh McCumiskey

The centenarian club – made up of people who celebrate their 100th birthday is growing across the globe. Amazingly, centenarians are now the fastest growing demographic around the world (, 2023). In Ireland, there were 456 centenarians in 2018 (CSO) and this number is expected to grow by a factor of 10 by 2050.

I recently asked a friend of mine, Susan about her mother-in-law who proudly celebrated a century at the end of last year about her secret to longevity.  Nanny Deery, a proud Monaghan lady said that the secret of her long happy life is “Enjoy every day and thank God for it and the gift to be fit to enjoy it. Enjoy good food and don’t overdo it. “

Although her message is short, her own life and the research shows there is a lot in what Nanny Deery says.

If you want to boost your lifespan, Cassidy Morrison, a longevity expert recently documented what centenarians have in common. Interestingly, following on from my last week’s article, they have a sense of community. They also know how to design a life with low stress and effectively manage stress. They also have senses of purpose and spirituality.

The health and wellness business is booming the world over. Interestingly it is said that 77 percent of Americans say they want to live to the age of 100. But the average life span is much shorter. In Ireland it is  82.2 years (2020 CSO). This growth of the centenarian club expected to continue, with estimates suggesting there will be 3.7 million centenarians across the globe in 2050 and 25 million by the turn of the next century. Will you be one of them? Do you want to be?

If you do, here are some ideas to help you. Genetics plays an important part. S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says: ‘There is an upper limit to human longevity… you cannot live a long life without having won the genetic lottery.’

The book ‘The blue zones’ documents many of the secrets of happy healthy centenarians as it looks at the places around the world with maximum centenarians and their habits. They include Okinawa in Japan, the islands of Sardinia in Italy, Loma Linda in California, Ikaria in Greece, and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.

Community is key. Centenarians maintain strong relationships. They trust people and they have good family connectivity. The Harvard Study for health and happiness, the longest study of its type in the world, also supports the importance of relationships and social connections for longevity. This makes sense. We are social beings. Problems and stresses get solved when people get along. Good relationships bring strength.

Centenarians also have a strong sense of purpose and intention. Having a reason to get of bed in the morning is shown to boost longevity across many studies. People who believe their life has meaning have lower levels of cortisol. Having a sense of purpose gives is empowering.

The people in the blue zones are spiritual. This does not mean they are religious although they may be. But they do take part in rituals and spiritual practices that give a sense of connection and groundedness. Spirituality can come through feeling connected to nature, meditation or through service. It is about feeling connected to something bigger than yourself. It also can happen through prayer or going a place of worship. They also have a way of managing stress effectively – breathing – having good friends and organising and managing their lives to minimise stress.