How To Live To Be 100

New research suggests that a long life is no accident. So what are the secrets of the world's centenarians?

  • August 30, 2004 TIME Cover: How to Live To Be 100 (And Not Regret It)

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    Studies of Seventh-Day Adventists in Utah support this finding. Those unusually clean-living Americans are genetically diverse, but they avoid alcohol, caffeine and tobacco — and they tend to live an average of eight years longer than their countrymen. All of this is good news, with a Surgeon General's warning attached: you can't change your genes, but you can change what you eat and how much you exercise. "The lesson is pretty clear from my point of view in terms of what the average person should be doing," says Perls. "I strongly believe that with some changes in health-related behavior, each of us can earn the right to have at least 25 years beyond the age of 60 — years of healthy life at good function. The disappointing news is that it requires work and willpower."

    At least that's true for many Americans, whose fat-and calorie-packed diets and largely exercise-free lives are a prescription for heart disease and plenty of other ills. For Okinawans, by contrast, the traditional way of life seems tailor-made for living forever — one day at a time.

    Each day, Seiryu Toguchi, 103, of Motobu, Okinawa, wakes at 6 a.m., in the house in which he was born, and opens the shutters. "It's a sign to my neighbors," he says, "that I am still alive." He does stretching exercises along with a radio broadcast, then eats breakfast: whole-grain rice and miso soup with vegetables. He puts in two hours of picking weeds in his 1,000-sq.-ft. field, whose crops are goya — a variety of bitter gourd — a reddish-purple sweet potato called imo, and okra. A fellow has to make a living, so Toguchi buys rice and meat with the profits from his produce.

    Since his wife Kame's death seven years ago, at 93, he has done all the housework himself. He rejected his children's suggestion to come live with them because, he explains, "I enjoy my freedom." Although his doctors insist Toguchi is in excellent health, the farmer takes no chances. "If he feels that something is wrong," says his daughter Sumiko Sakihara, 74, "even in the middle of the night, he calls a taxi and goes to the hospital." But he doesn't want the other villagers to worry, so, she says, "he writes a note explaining where he is and tapes it to the shutters."

    At 12:30 Toguchi eats lunch: goya stir-fry with egg and tofu. He naps for an hour or so, then spends two more hours in his field. After dinner he plays traditional songs — a favorite is Spring When I Was 19 — on the three-stringed sanshin and makes an entry in his diary, as he has every night for the past decade. "This way," he says, "I won't forget my Chinese characters. It's fun. It keeps my mind sharp." For a nightcap he may have a sip of the wine he makes from aloe, garlic and tumeric. And as he drifts off, he says, "my head is filled with all the things I want to do tomorrow."

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