The Lifetime Habits of Centenarians

The Lifetime Habits of Centenarians


By Jean Strock, AFA

When we talk about retirement planning one of the issues we now face is how much longer a retirement nest egg has to last. A 65 year old man today could live on average to age 86 and a female to 88.8 years.

New Zealanders are living progressively longer but let’s face it, this is a good problem to have. While we do not want to outlive our financial resources, early financial planning and delaying retirement beyond the traditional age of 65 are ways to mitigate that risk.

Centenarians are one of the fastest growing sectors of the population and the UN predicts that worldwide their numbers will increase nine fold by 2050. Research on identical twins shows that 25% of their longevity is due to genetic factors while 75% is due to lifestyle choices.

So if a super long life appeals how you do go about getting there?

Residents of Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy) and Seventh Day Adventists in the USA are some of the longest living populations on earth and have been extensively studied. Here are some of the characteristics of centenarians the world over:

Physical activity: While centenarians tend not to formally exercise they are engaged in physical activity. This is often farming or gardening.

Stronger social relationships; or remaining in work is well known to prolong the lifespan. In many long lived cultures the elderly continue to play their part in the community and remain valued members of the community. Solid relationships and a positive personality are common among the very old.

Eat a healthy diet: lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, legumes and fish feature in the diets of long lived cultures. More research is revealing the benefits of remaining lean and avoiding excessive eating. In Okinawa they say “hara hachi bu”- eat until you are four fifths full.

Smoking: Smoking will take ten years (on average) from your lifespan.

The recent University of Cambridge study confirms that those that adopt the following habits and stick to them live an average of fourteen years longer than those who don’t.

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Drink less than 14 units of alcohol a week (about 7 glasses of wine).
  • Have an active job or exercise for half hour each day.
  • Have 5 daily servings of fruit and vegetables.


Weight and social class were not relevant as long as the four healthy habits were maintained. So it is not all mung beans and abstention but rather gentle modification to enjoy a longer, healthier life.