Worry less, be kind: Science's top tips on living to 100
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Worry less, be kind: Science's top tips on living to 100

A few months ago, Tom Sample finally admitted defeat. His dicky knee was starting to give him real trouble as he walked across the greens at his golf club.

So, aged 97, Mr Sample gave in to the passing of time. He started using a golf cart.

“To be honest, I don’t like riding in the cart – it breaks up the rhythm,” he says. “It’s a pain in the neck. But I guess it’s one of those things I’ll have to accept.”

Tom Sample out the front of his Kingsford home. The 97-year-old plays golf twice a week, still does all his own shopping and mows his lawn.

Tom Sample out the front of his Kingsford home. The 97-year-old plays golf twice a week, still does all his own shopping and mows his lawn.Credit:Jessica Hromas

Mr Sample has grown old the way many would hope to. He lives independently, in Sydney's eastern suburbs, and has lots of friends. He does his own shopping, mows his own lawn, plays golf twice a week and spoils his great-grandchildren rotten.

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And he’s still sharp as a tack.

“I think in some ways it’s quite disappointing, getting to be this old," he said, lamenting that his home repair abilities had become limited. "You cannot do the things you used to do. I’ve got a bit of trouble in my plumbing. I could have fixed that in five minutes when I was younger – but it took me about half an hour!”

It is probably no coincidence that Mr Sample nails every recommendation from experts who study how to live to 100.

 Mr Sample has a bowl of muesli and fresh fruit for breakfast, avoids processed foods and eats fish twice a week.

Mr Sample has a bowl of muesli and fresh fruit for breakfast, avoids processed foods and eats fish twice a week.Credit:Jessica Hromas

He does the basics: he is socially and physically active, has an active mind, and eats very well.

That’s a good start. But experts say Mr Sample has another little-known attribute many centenarians share: the right personality.

“Their psychological characteristics are remarkable," says Nobuyoshi Hirose, a researcher at the Centre for Supercentenarian Medical Research at Keio University, Tokyo.

“They are positive and have a strong will to overcome difficulties encountered in life. And they are friendly, happy and kind. They are very attractive people.”

Professor Perminder Sachdev, who leads the Sydney Centenarian Study at the University of NSW's Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (Mr Sample is a participant), sees the same thing in his studies.

“They are a resilient lot – life does throw curve balls but they appear to come back with vigour. This seems to come up in all studies of centenarians.”

Studies show the very old tend to worry less, be more outgoing and agreeable, and are typically highly satisfied with their lives. In personality tests they score low on neuroticism.

Importantly, genes seem to play much less of a role than you might think. About 30 per cent of your lifespan can be predicted by looking at your DNA; that means 70 per cent is down to how you live your life.

“Longevity is a life-long enterprise,” Professor Sachdev said. “It takes a lifetime of good habits that should begin early in life with good education and maintenance of health through the lifespan.”

Based on his research, he recommends a low-calorie plant-based diet with little red meat.

Mr Sample has enjoyed a bowl of muesli and fresh fruit for breakfast for years, avoids processed foods like “meat pies and pasties”, and eats fish twice a week.

Regular exercise is also vital, as is seeing friends and staying socially active –  a form of mental exercise.

It’s a no-brainer, but avoiding getting sick is also key if you want to stay alive.

Staying fit and trim to avoid diabetes and high blood pressure is important. Seventy per cent of those who live past 110 manage to get lucky and avoid catching any nasty diseases, like cancer.

Mr Sample cannot quite believe his luck; he shakes his head at having lived to see his own children retire.

Mr Sample in his living room.

Mr Sample in his living room.Credit:Jessica Hromas

“I think I’m pretty lucky to be living so long. It’s a strange feeling. People talk about being 65 on the radio, and you just laugh.”

The Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at the University of NSW is hosting Living to 100, a conference of the world’s leading experts on centenarians and ageing, in Sydney from September 7-8. Register at bit.ly/Livingto100Register