The vast majority of centenarians agree on one key to living longer: Keep busy. As Bob Hope said, “You never get tired unless you stop and take time for it.”
Here are 9 iconic men and women who lived into the triple digits, and what we can learn from them about longevity.
In his appropriately titled memoir How to Live to be 100, the beloved entertainer shared a fitness and nutrition plan that wasn’t exactly groundbreaking. It consisted of a lot of stretches and walking, and a diet high in prunes. But he didn’t consider any of this the “key” to a long life:
“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity,” he wrote, “I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.”
Need some pointers? Here are 52 Ways to Chase Stress Away.
Gloria Stuart kept pretty busy as an actress during the 1930s and 40s, but she never really broke through as a star. At least not until 1997, when, at the not-exactly fresh-off-the-bus age of 87, she gave an Oscar-nominated performance as “Old Rose” in Titanic.
The secret to her long life can likely be found in the title of her memoir: I Just Kept Hoping. She considered Titanic her “last chance to finally prove I could be a first-rank actress.” Even into her 80s, she had big dream she was still chasing.
It’s a worldview that could help anybody. Research published in Psychological Science found that people who report having a strong purpose in life tend to outlive their peers. Susan Biali, M.D., a life coach and author of Live a Life You Love, says that pursuing something we love “releases chemicals in your brain which are known to boost your immune system, keep your heart healthy, and decrease stress hormones.”
The renowned painter “Grandma Moses” didn’t begin professionally painting until she was 78, but her work quickly became highly regarded and can still be found in museums nationwide today, as well as the White House.
“Painting’s not important,” she once said. “The important thing is keeping busy.” She also believed in the importance of being in “young company”—people younger than yourself—and to always “keep laughing.” (Here are a few more health-related reasons why You Need a Good Laugh.)
But her greatest insight may have come during an interview with a Florida newspaper in 1960, when she was 100 years old. “I have a lot of boyfriends,” she was quoted as saying. “That’s the way to stay young.” Amen to that.
The Swiss chemist who discovered the psychedelic drug LSD, and used it himself on many occasions, lived to the ripe old age of 102. And those last few years weren’t exactly spent sitting around an assisted living rec room playing bingo. He was touring the world, giving lectures, being active.
Could there be something in LSD that made it happen? Even Hofman didn’t think so. During a 2006 LSD symposium in Switzerland, he revealed that his secret to long life had nothing to do with drugs. It was the two raw eggs he ate with his muesli for breakfast every morning.
“In an egg there is everything a being needs to develop—vitamins, minerals and hormones,” he said.
We wouldn’t personally recommend eating them raw. Here are The 14 Best Ways to Eat an Egg.
The legendary actress is mostly remembered for being the first person in Hollywood history to win back-to-back Oscars, first for 1936’s The Great Ziegfeldand then 1937’s The Good Earth. (She’s also remembered for being the first actor to fall victim to the “Oscar Curse”—an acting career that loses steam after winning Oscar gold.) But we’re more impressed that Rainer made it to 104 years old.
During an interview with The Telegraph, the actress—two months shy of her 100th birthday at the time—said it all came down to being curious. “When you lose your curiosity, you’re dead,” she said, adding, “There is so much in the world that one should know, or it would be marvelous to know. And I know nothing. Nothing!”
During his later years, when Bob Hope was asked his secrets to staying young, he would characteristically reply with a joke: “The secret of eternal youth is to lie about your age,” he’d say. Or, “I’ll tell ya how to stay young: Hang around with older people.”
But in an interview to the Weekly World News in 1981, at age 78, he revealed this nugget: “I walk two miles every night, no matter what city I’m in.”
Hope learned about the importance of walking from his grandfather. “When he was 96 years old, he walked two miles to the local pub every day to get a drink,” Hope said. “He died within a month of his 100th birthday, and he remained mentally sharp till the very end.”
(Even a short walk can do wonders for your health. Find out how a 5-Minute Trip Could Save Your Life.)
Run Run Shaw
Run Run Shaw was a legendary Hong Kong film producer, the granddaddy of kung-fu cinema who created over 300 films, including the cult classic Blade Runner. He passed early in 2014, in his own home, at the impressive age of 106.
How did he do it? According to The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the government of China, one of Shaw’s secrets to a long life was his daily habit of “rotat(ing) his feet 64 times before (he) went to bed.”
Um, okay. So there you go. Hey, we didn’t say that people who lived to double digits had all the answers.
Passing away at the age of 122, Jeanne Calment is officially the world’s oldest person (on record). Born the same year that Alexander Graham Bell patented his telephone, she had numerous vices that included smoking cigarettes (she finally quit at 118), drinking red wine, and eating more than two pounds of chocolate per week.
But she was also active, not just in her youth but at an age when most people are doing more sitting than aerobic activity. She took up fencing at 86. She rode her bicycle every day until she was 100.
Jean-Marie Robine, a public health researcher and co-author of a book about Mrs. Calment, told the New York Times in 1997 that the recently deceased centenarian “was someone who, constitutionally and biologically speaking, was immune to stress.”
If you’re like the rest of us and don’t have a built-in immunity, here are 19 Ways to Live a Stress-Free Life.
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
The Queen Mother, who was a symbol of strength for Great Britain during the dark days of WWII and an icon into the new millennium, lived to be 101 years old.
We don’t have to make educated guesses about why she lived so long. She made it abundantly clear in this quote from her official biography, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother:
“Wouldn’t it be terrible if you’d spent all your life doing everything you were supposed to do, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t eat things, took lots of exercise, all the things you didn’t want to do, and suddenly one day you were run over by a big red bus, and as the wheels were crunching into you you’d say ‘Oh my god, I could have got so drunk last night!’ That’s the way you should live your life, as if tomorrow you’ll be run over by a big red bus.”
Now there’s some longevity advice we can all get behind.