You don’t have to live in a Blue Zone to reach 100. These 4 things will maximize your chances, according to a lifespan expert.

  • Alyson van Raalte is a demographer who researches why some people live longer than others.
  • You don’t need to live in a Blue Zone to reach the age of 100, she said.
  • Not smoking, having an active mind, and a thriving social network could help you live longer. 

Blue Zones, the five places worldwide where people reach the age of 100 at unusually high rates, seem to hold all the answers to living for as long as possible. But an expert said there are four things we can do to increase our longevity, no matter where we live.

Alyson van Raalte, who leads research into lifespan inequalities at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Germany, said that although traditional ways of life are often used to explain the high proportion of centenarians in Blue Zones such as Costa Rica and Okinawa, Japan, that doesn’t paint the whole picture.

“Only the most robust people in the population are actually even making it to older ages,” she said, meaning those who die younger aren’t around to lower the average age. It’s also difficult to isolate each aspect of a person’s life in studies to prove what’s helping them live longer.

How long a person lives mostly comes down to their genes, life circumstances, and things we can’t predict, van Raalte said. For instance, identical twins will likely have similar lifespans, even if one eats better and exercises more than the other — unless something unexpected happens, like one gets sick or is involved in an accident.

However, van Raalte said, there are certain things you can do to maximize your chances of living to 100.

Don’t smoke
Not smoking is the only lifestyle factor proven to help you live longer, van Raalte said. The places where people live longest on average — East Asia for women and Western Europe for men — are also the places where they are least likely to take up smoking.

“You need to do some kind of exercise,” van Raalte said.

There’s no evidence that one type of exercise is better for longevity than another, though, as it would be difficult to assign a person to only do one activity for their whole lives and study them, she said.

Two people fist bumping in a gym.
Exercise is great for increasing your longevity. The Good Brigade/Getty Images
Research suggests that a combination of cardio and strength training is best for health, but previously reported that you don’t have to go to the gym to reap the benefits of exercise for longevity.

Keep your mind active
As well as staying physically fit, an active mind is also important for longevity, van Raalte said.

Heidi Tissenbaum, a molecular, cell, and cancer biology professor who researches healthy lifespans, previously said that one of the basics of longevity is making new connections in the brain through activities such as reading and learning new skills.

Have a social network
People in southern Europe tend to live longer than those in northern Europe, and also tend to have stronger family ties, van Raalte said. In northern Europe, people are more likely to put older family members in care homes and live separately.

This difference in lifespan could be due to differences in climate, smoking patterns, or other factors, but socializing still appears to be important for longevity, she said.

Gerontologist Professor Rose Anne Kenny previously said that having strong friendships appears to be just as important for longevity as diet and exercise are.

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