Live to 100? Why not!


The very fact that the retirement age keeps rising is one indication that longevity is here to stay. Photo:

“75 is good enough for me!”

This response never fails to surprise me whenever I pose this question to my friends: How long would you like to live? Rarely do I hear someone say, 100.

Even as a hypothetical question, those who say they want to live as long as they can usually qualify it with “must be still in good health and of sound mind”.

Of course, we are not talking about living to a ripe old age frail, senile and bed-bound. No one would want to live that long without quality of life. Life is precious. It is a gift. We want to cling to it for as long as we can. And it is entirely up to us, our responsibility to ensure we remain reasonably fit and well as we enter advanced age. The golden years should not be a misnomer.

I am 75 now. I definitely want to stick around to see my grandchildren graduate, get married and be blessed to cradle in my arms my first-born great-grandchild. How could anyone not want such joys in life?

Many of my friends are in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. All of us feel we are in our second prime, still fit, vibrant and energetic. And full of zest for life.

There was a time when centenarians were so rare in Japan, on their birthdays they would receive a silver sake dish or sakazuki from the government. When this practice was introduced in 1963, there were only 153 centenarians. By 2014, the number had increased to almost 30,000! This practice was eventually discontinued in 2015.

Teresa Tsu at 112 enjoying the thrill of kite-flying. - BELLE LEETeresa Tsu at 112 enjoying the thrill of kite-flying. - BELLE LEE

Each generation lives longer and better than the previous one. My mum was 95 when she passed on. According to the National Registration Department census, Malaysia had a total of 43,599 centenarians in 2015. That number would have gone way up by now. In 2020, 109-year-old Annamah Abukutty entered Malaysia’s Book of Records as the oldest living woman in Malaysia. She was hale and hearty and able to give a lucid interview on Star TV.

The oldest person I met was already 110 when I first met her in October 2008 at a talk she was giving on “How to live to 110”. She was my inspiration for my work in the seniors’ community. We remained in touch till she passed on at 113. Her mantra was laughter – the ability to take life lightly. To her, laughter was anytime preferable to tears.

The very fact that the retirement age keeps rising is one indication that longevity is here to stay. Studies show that a child born today in developed countries is expected to live to 150. Biochemist and gerontologist Aubrey de Grey came out in the 1990s with his conviction that living forever is possible once we have conquered age-related diseases such as cancer, stroke, dementia, diabetes, osteoporosis and atherosclerosis.

Since then, research and study into the science of ageing has exploded. In 2013, Google started the R&D company Calico, and invested over a billion dollars into life extension research. Coming up is the Longevity Summit in Dublin from Aug 17 to 20. It will be a showcase for the most up-to-date research and innovations in the longevity industry.

In Singapore, the Tsao Foundation held a Longevity Forum in May 2023. Founding director of Stanford Centre on Longevity, Prof Laura Cartensen, who delivered the keynote address, spoke of the need to match healthspan with lifespan. Experts attending the conference felt that businesses, the government and society in general should start preparing for the longevity future. Singapore will reach super-aged status in 2026.

Welcome to longevity. Living to 100 will be the norm by 2050. It is no longer a pipe dream, and there is no need to seek the proverbial fountain of youth. Thanks to advances in health, nutrition, medical care, education, technology and public awareness of what constitutes healthy living, we are not only living longer, but living better and looking younger than our chronological age. Videos of amazing seniors in their 80s and 90s working out, modelling clothes and enjoying life in full have gone viral on social media. The number of “granfluencers” on Tik Tok is growing.

The next obvious question is: How do we ensure we live up to 100 still physically fit and mentally sound as when we were in our 40s?

In 2009, I came across a National Geographic article by Dan Buettner. He identified five places in the world which he called Blue Zones where people live the longest, and are healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California.

Obviously, these are places and cultures foreign to most of us. But we can adapt some of the findings from Buettner’s seminal study, and from a simple survey I did of the Malaysian and Singaporean super agers I know.

Here’s a list of “pillars” of ageing well. Most are familiar to us, but remember: No action, no results.

1. There are NO obese centenarians. So, let’s watch our weight and don’t overeat. Stop when we are 80% full.

2. Choose “forks over knives” (watch the excellent documentary of the same title). Go for a plant-based diet that includes nuts and whole grains.

3. Treat ourselves to a glass or two of red wine a day. Asians prefer tea. It is a good anti-oxidant too.

4. Know our purpose in life (ikigai) and be driven by it. Volunteering for a good cause is just as meaningful.

5. Have an anchor, a belief system – spiritual or religious. Many seniors turn to religion not only for refuge and comfort, but also to prepare for the next and final chapter of life.

6. Learn to relax and enjoy life. Nothing is worth losing sleep or friendship over. Forgive, forget, and move on.

7. Keep physically and mentally active. Top of the list are brisk walking, strength training and brain stimulating exercises. Supplement with some taiji or yoga for balance and fall prevention.

8. Be part of a healthy social network. Lack of social engagements, especially for seniors living alone, may lead to loneliness and depression, and a tendency for suicidal thoughts.

9. Maintain good family ties. Enjoy family celebrations and reunions. This is a big boost to our wellbeing.

So, the question again: “Is it worth living to 100?” My answer is a resounding Yes!

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