Why do some people live long, healthy, and happy lives, while others struggle with dementia, heart disease, and depression? Are there steps we can take to protect ourselves from those outcomes, or is it all a matter of luck (and good genes)? What do the latest scientific advancements say about helping us get the most out of our lifespans, and how can we afford our longer lives?
Those are the questions U.S. News sought to answer with this project, How to Live to 100. Promises of magic elixirs abound: in television ads for skin-care products, in doctor's offices, and even at the grocery store. Every day, new research seems to suggest something new: Drink red wine, skip red meat, take vitamin C, drink coffee. We sought to find out the truth about steps we can all take to increase our chances of staying healthy, happy, and affording it.
The financial side of longevity is playing an increasingly visible role as people begin to routinely live 10, 20, and even 30 years after retirement. "People have many more years to worry about and take care of, and we're living at a time when a lot of their resources have been diminished. The drop in the value of homes has probably wiped out an average of two-thirds of home equity for American homeowners. And your job might not be there as long as you had hoped," says Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of U.S. News.
In addition to interviewing the country's top researchers on health, longevity, happiness, and finances, we sought out people who seem to have discovered the answer to successful aging. They often echoed each other's thoughts about consciously choosing healthier diets, opting to spend more time with family over work, and finding meaning by giving back to communities and connecting with others long past retirement. As actress Betty White, perhaps the nation's most famous nonagenarian, recently put it to CNN's Piers Morgan, "Old age is all up here," gesturing to her head.
That's certainly the case for 77-year-old marathoner Ruth Heidrich, a breast cancer survivor who changed her diet and exercise habits after her diagnosis in 1982. "That's what started me on this whole road," she says, referring to her all-raw diet and extreme exercise habits, including triathlons and Iron Man competitions.
Heidrich, who lives in Honolulu, eats a large bowl of leafy greens for breakfast, mixed with a banana, a mango, and raw steel-cut oats. She sprinkles cinnamon and ginger on top, and drinks green tea mixed with a tablespoon of pure unsweetened cocoa, along with some Stevia to sweeten the drink. A typical dinner includes more leafy greens and fruit along with broccoli and salsa. For dessert and snacks, she munches on blueberries, walnuts, prunes, apples, and popcorn. "I started eating at least a cup of blueberries a day after I read that blueberries are good for the brain," she says. She doesn't drink coffee or alcohol.
Today, she no longer competes in Iron Man competitions but continues to work out for three hours daily, typically running, biking, or swimming before breakfast, and plans to continue doing so, albeit at a slower pace. "I will keep exercising forever," she says. "My energy levels are through the roof and I'm having fun. I feel like I've got to tell everybody, 'You've got to eat right and exercise right … Walking is not exercise. You've gotta sweat, you've gotta breathe hard.'"
Robert Kuhns, 69, found fulfillment in retirement through a second career: The retired IBM executive works as a forest ranger in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park during part of the year, leading hikes, giving talks on animal habits, and taking photographs for park brochures. From the end of March through the end of November, he works 40 hours a week, which includes plenty of exercise, hiking up and down trails as he shares information about native species of insects and trees with visitors. "It's one of the most rewarding things I've done in my life," he says. He plans to continue for as long as he can, perhaps another 10 years.