Active people in their 90s and 100s provide models of healthy aging
(Charlie Archambault for USN&WR)
Age is often seen as an enemy to be battled or outwitted—never mind that it's impossible to avoid and that the alternative to growing older is, well, dying younger. But when you talk with people who are nearing or have reached the century mark, still vital, you realize that they have arrived not by running for hours a week on a treadmill, downing vitamins by the handful, or spending their free time in the plastic surgeon's office. They've been too busy living—working, traveling, engaging in creative pursuits, spending time with friends and family, doing with gusto whatever it is that gives them joy. Lynn Adler, founder of the National Centenarian Awareness Project, a nonprofit that promotes active aging, says that among the active centenarians she meets (about half of people age 100 plus fill the bill, she says; the other half are disabled by dementia or some other ailment), there are common threads, including, of course, good genes and luck: They have a positive, but realistic, attitude about what they can do. Time to give up the car keys? OK, they'll find a ride or use public transportation. They also have a love of life and a sense of humor, often share strong spiritual beliefs, and show a "remarkable ability to renegotiate at any turn and accept the losses and changes that come," Adler says. After all, it's impossible to reach age 90 or 100 without facing adversity—the loss of a spouse, friends, or even children, as well as medical problems—head-on. "Old age," she notes, "is not for sissies."
In the portraits that follow, you'll see those qualities in spades. While there is no guarantee that following the example set by these folks when you're young or middle-aged will help you live a long and rich life, doing so will certainly make the journey more enjoyable. So find work or a vocation that inspires you—paying or not—and keep doing it rather than abruptly retiring. Be moderate in your eating and drinking. Move the body that you have. And reach out to people around you of all generations. "Being part of one's community," says Adler, "is really important."