An Old Story

In my story, “A Walk on the Beach With my Aunt,” a rather dissatisfied middle-aged woman, Rebecca, learns some surprising lessons from her upbeat centenarian aunt, Abigail. In response to Rebecca’s question about her aunt’s secret to healthy longevity, Abigail responds:

I say ‘thank you’ to the One who gave me life every single morning when I open my eyes. And then I go out and celebrate life with my morning walk on the beach. The beach inspires my art; I still paint just about every day. That’s my passion, and I would recommend having a passion to everyone. For me, it’s part of living a fulfilling life and it energizes me.

Old couple dancing

In the course of Rebecca’s conversation with Aunt Abigail, it becomes increasingly clear that her aunt’s amazing health and happiness stem from her attitude, not just good luck. Aunt Abigail demonstrates, as she shares her life story, that she embodies traits such as optimism and gratitude, staying active, keeping connected with her family, and remaining passionate about her work as an artist. Rebecca is surprised to learn that her aunt has struggled with some real challenges in her life, but her tenacity and her optimistic attitude have afforded her great resilience. In the real world, personality traits like those exhibited by Aunt Abigail are highly correlated with health and longevity. Let’s take a look at what we can learn from individuals, like the fictional Aunt Abigail, who have lived for at least a hundred years.

While advances in medicine and healthier lifestyle choices have contributed significantly to greater longevity throughout the world, and some people just have good genes, people who are still living at a hundred and beyond appear to be generally happy people. In showcasing a relatively large population of centenarians at one Midwest senior facility, the centenarians were interviewed about their lives—and life choices. They all reported having had very happy marriages. One centenarian couple was still enjoying life together. They spoke of their strong work ethic, their interests, and their close ties with family and friends. Another midwesterner, Marion Hunter, was a supercentenarian who attributed her longevity to dancing throughout her life.

Regions of the world where people live the longest are known as “blue zones.” A National Geographic Fellow and journalist, Dan Buettner, has researched this phenomenon. He pinpoints some prevalent traits exhibited by older individuals in these blue zones. These include daily walks, daily short naps, and having at least three close friends who can be relied on for emotional support.

Much scientific evidence also demonstrates the power of the toothbrush (and dental floss). The risk of heart disease and dementia, among other age-related diseases, can be significantly reduced by regular brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental exams and cleanings. This is because good oral hygiene removes (or prevents) chronic low-level inflammation that can negatively impact on the immune system. The American Dental Association recommends twice-daily brushing and daily flossing. A Scottish study found that those who brushed twice daily had a significantly lower heart-attack risk than those who only brushed once a day, and a much lower risk than those who didn’t brush at all.

A 2018 Harvard study found that five habits are significantly correlated with longevity. These include eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking, and not drinking too much alcohol. The Mediterranean diet, in particular, seems to be associated with promoting health and longevity.

Getting a good night’s sleep (7-8 hours) on a regular basis has been shown to facilitate healthy immune functioning, essential for healthy longevity. Andrew Steele, a scientist who authored Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old, stresses the importance of all that shuteye. He asserts that sleep is like “spring cleaning” for the brain; it flushes out toxins such as those associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological syndromes.

Tremendous advances in the field of aging biology have allowed scientists to employ methods that can slow down the aging process at the cellular level. As the twenty-first century continues, we can expect much more progress in this field. The probability of a significantly higher percentage of the population aging well, and even becoming super-centenarians (reaching the age of 110), is in sight. In the meanwhile, we all can do our part to give ourselves greater odds of someday celebrating centenarian birthdays.

And, like those centenarians—and super-centenarians—who still shine on the dance floor, let’s hope we’ll all be dancing to 120—and beyond. 


  1. Cory Stieg, “The Surprising Habit That can Reverse Aging–and Other Science-Backed Strategies,” Make It, March 28, 2021
  2. “Centenarian,” Wikipedia
  3. Cory Stieg, “Researchers say the Probability of Living Past 110 is on the Rise–Here’s What you can do to get There,” Make It, July 17, 2021
  4. Steve Brandt, “Obituary: Supercentenarian Marion Hunter Danced Through Life,” Star Tribune, August 23, 2016