There are an estimated 90,000 centenarians living in the U.S. It’s a small percentage of the population, yes, but it’s a number that’s expected to keep increasing. By 2060, there could be about 600,000 people who are 100 or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
What’s it take to get there? That’s a question geriatrician Thomas Perls, M.D., has been investigating for decades with the New England Centenarian Study, based at Boston University’s Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. As expected, there’s no miracle drug or radical regimen that will guarantee centenarian status. Scientists say environment and lifestyle both play a role, as do genetics — especially for those who live past 100.
“Look at your family history,” Perls says. If people are living into their 90s and beyond, “I think that can be very, very good news for you.” It’s all the more reason to “set your sights high and do the right things to help facilitate and enable that tremendous gift that you’ve been given,” Perls adds.
“I think if you do all those things, you will improve your chances,” says one 105-year-old Navy veteran and centenarian study participant from Kingsport, Tennessee, who asked to be identified only by his initials, R.W.M. “That won’t guarantee you’re going to live to 100, I just think it sure does help.”
AARP spoke with three other centenarians about their history, their habits and their advice for people who want to make it to 100 and beyond.
Gladys McGarey, 102
Just as World War II was ending, Gladys McGarey, M.D., was starting her career in medicine at a hospital in Cincinnati, where she was the first female intern. That was nearly 80 years ago, and McGarey hasn’t stopped working since. After all, “there’s work that needs to be done,” the Scottsdale, Arizona, centenarian says.
She released a book this year, The Well-Lived Life: A 102-Year-Old Doctor’s Six Secrets to Health and Happiness at Every Age. In it, McGarey, who was a cofounder of the American Holistic Medical Association, outlines advice for others hoping to live — and enjoy — a long life.
Her recommendations deviate from the usual, focusing instead on principles such as listening to and laughing with others, and understanding your purpose in life.