Recent United Nations population statistics estimate that there are 317,000 centenarians worldwide at present, a number projected to grow to 3 million by 2050, reaching 18 million by 2100. Per capita, Japan leads the world with 35 centenarians per 100,000 — followed by France at 27, and the U.S. at 22. Research indicates that genetics account for just 20-30% of an individual’s life span, with the rest accounted for by diet and lifestyle choices.

Among the many studies on those who bypass the 100 year benchmark, physical activity is a recurring theme – successful agers take the stairs, swim, golf, bike, etc. In the famous Okinawa study, centenarians do Tai chi and karate. They also exercise their brain, reading, painting, even sculpting. Exercise — for brain and body — is just one part of the longevity equation:  Eating nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables helps to reduce DNA damage, while getting enough B6 from bananas, wild salmon, spinach and red bell peppers helps support DNA repair.

While genes may play a smaller role than you think, don’t discount gender: Female centenarians outnumber males by a 9:1 ratio. But men have another advantage: Having reached the 100 mark, they are generally healthier and less likely to suffer dementia. Regardless of genes or gender, data does point to several “to do’s” if you aim to stick around for as long as possible:

  • Maintain close positive ties with family and friends.
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables: the Okinawans eat an average of seven servings daily!
  • Favor omega-3 fatty acids and plant oils over animal fats.
  • Try meditation or prayer: One study found that having a dutiful disposition could lower dementia risk by 90% while regular meditation was found to thwart age-related thinning of the prefrontal cortex.

Published February 1, 2013