Living to 100

[This article was originally published on June 20, 2006.  The links were updated on August 24, 2018.]

iLiving to 100/i

Thomas T. Perls and Margery Hutter Silver, Living to 100: Lessons in Living to Your Maximum Potential at Any Age (Basic Books, New York: 2000).

Available on (click book to order).

At age 101, Tom Spear won a 65-and-over golf tournament with a score of 86. Anna Morgan remained active as a grassroots organizer until her death at age 102. MIT professor Dirk Struik published an article on mathematics when he was 101.

Once considered a rarity, centenarians are now the world's fastest-growing age group. There are about 50,000 people over 100 in the United States, almost three times as many as in 1980, and by 2050 there will be close to one million centenarians, according to one estimate.

What is the secret to continuing to live a full life at the century mark? Are there lessons that these pioneers can teach the rest of us? To find out, Harvard scientists Thomas Perls and Margery Hutter Silver launched the New England Centenarian Study (NECS), the first comprehensive medical and psychological study of the oldest old. The authors studied more than one hundred centenarians living in New England, visiting them in their homes, evaluating their physical and mental health, and tracing their family trees.

Living to 100 sums up the researchers' findings and concludes that we need to change our view of aging. Far from being a cause of illness, age is really a product of good health, Perls and Silver found. Centenarians are as mentally and physically healthy as people 30 years younger. In other words, they are living longer not in spite of disease, but rather are delaying disease and debility as long as possible. "We have replaced the saying, 'The older you get, the sicker you get,' with the more accurate observation, 'The older you get, the healthier you've been,'" says Perls.

Perls and Silver found that those who maintain their health and vitality late into their lives do so not by staying young but by aging well. In their book, the authors identify lifestyle choices, vitamins, and medications that play a role in aging well and may even help retard the aging process.

Living to 100 is packed with personal profiles, informational sidebars, and quizzes. It presents a positive vision of longevity and life at the century marka milestone that more and more of us will be fortunate enough to reach.

The New England Centenarian Study researchers have applied what they learned in this and other longevity studies to create a Web-based Life Expectancy Calculator. To use the Calculator, go to