9 ‘power traits’ to help you live past 100, according to science (and #4 is a huge surprise)

The secrets to living a long life revealed

Elderly couple smiling while drinking coffee on the sofa
(Image credit: Getty Images)

To live past 100, research has uncovered the nine 'power traits' you need - and they're not just for a long life, but for anyone wanting to remain healthy in their older years.

When it comes to uncovering the key to a longer life, plenty of discussion is given to time spent with grandchildren being the source of extended living. Visiting a grandparent just once a month can help them live longer, while studies find looking after grandchildren is better for their brains than sudoku. Rising costs result in huge numbers of parents have no choice but to live near grandparents for childcare, meaning more are having their lives enriched by their grandchildren than ever before - and living longer because of it.

Now, longevity expert Dan Buettner, believes he's unlocked the nine traits uniting those who live past 100 - he refers to them as the 'Power Nine.' Most of the people with the traits identified, live in what Buettner has dubbed 'Blue Zones," or regions with an abundance of healthy and long living populations. These areas include Okinawa in Japan, Ikaria in Greece, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Loma Linda in California, and Italy's Sardinia. 

Outside of these areas, the traits could be adopted for anyone interested in living a healthier life and wanting to make it to their centenarian years.

9 traits to help you live past 100

  1. Whole-food, plant-based diet. Blue Zone residents have a whole food diet in common, that includes eating meat sparingly. They consume plenty of beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts, and plenty of fruit and vegetables. Fish and dairy are also limited in their diets. 
  2. Unconscious methods for not over-eating. This includes not having electronics in kitchens - these can provide distractions that interrupt brain signals indicating a person is full. This is a form of mindful eating. Blue Zone residents also frontload their day with calories and eat fewer calories into the late afternoon or early evening, a little like intermittent fasting.
  3. Have a sense of purpose. Buettner found those with a sense of purpose live around eight years longer than those who don't. In Japan, "ikigai" is the term used to describe a sense of meaning. Translated, ikigai means "a reason for being," or "a reason to get up in the morning." It's built on the idea that a meaningful life is often a longer and healthier, while spreading positivity to those around us. 
  4. Take part in daily rituals. This can be anything from praying, thanking ancestors, and napping. It can even include cooking, singing and playing. These rituals are thought to relieve stress, while studies show daily rituals lower anxiety and improve performance in many areas of life.  
  5. Drink a little alcohol every day. Although this might be a surprising trait, Buettner found over 85% of people, especially men making it to 100, drink every day of their life. However, they drink mindfully and it's often homemade wine. This still offers the chance to get some wine-making kits and hone a new hobby in retirement if you enjoy a daily glass of alcohol.
  6. Family are a priority. Longevity is associated with having family members nearby, even when when they're in old age. Buettner suggests multigenerational families living together or very near one another have a life expectancy of between two and six years longer than those who don't. 
  7. Invest in relationships. If those who live longer live near their families, it's no surprise they have a higher inclination to invest in their relationships. They focus on strong and meaningful connections with children, family members and friends, prioritising quality over quantity when it comes to whom they surround themselves with. Buettner suggests this gives their kids higher survivability and lower mortality rates, and friendships are reciprocal in both parties carefully considering the needs of the other.
  8. Belong to a faith. We understand this isn't for everyone. Most Blue Zone residents live in faith-based communities, and most attend a church, temple or mosque regularly. Buettner found the ritualistic impact of attending a place of worship adds between four and 14 years to the lifespan. However, for those who aren't religious, studies suggest mindfulness, yoga and meditation also play a part in slowing the ageing process and living longer.
  9. Move naturally. There's no need for gyms or strenuous exercise, those who live longer live in environments that constantly encourage gentle movement. They tend to their gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences that help with work around the garden and house.

Speaking more on the food needed to live longer, Buettner says on the Blue Zones website: "There’s no one food that is going to assure you’ll live longer or healthier; it’s about the combination.  In the blue zone of Costa Rica, we found almost the perfect food combination in corn, beans, and squash - these three provide all the proteins necessary for life. In Okinawa, sweet potatoes - high in beta-carotene - fuelled centenarians for nearly half of their lives. And in Sardinia, a sourdough bread, leavened with lactobacillus, actually lowers insulin response to a meal."

On the positives of living to 100, he concludes "You could be as active and vibrant as Marge Jetton in Loma Linda, California. At 100 she walks a mile before breakfast, rides six to eight miles on her stationery bike in the afternoon and volunteers every day. She is living large. A big part of living like those in the blue zones is having a sense of purpose. If you are healthy and feel valued, 100 will feel like 70."

For more on older generations, five types of grandparents have been identified, and some set their grandchildren up with great habits to last a lifetime. One grandmother shares her tips for spending more time with grandchildren and it left the internet divided - some view it as manipulation

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.