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Three steps to living to 116: One woman's secret to longevity

July 9, 2014

Even with the average life expectancy on the rise, most wouldn't even dream of seeing their 116th birthday. Gertrude Weaver, an Arkansas woman born in 1898, recently did just that. On her birthday, which she celebrated July 4, she ate cake and relished in the glory of her new title: the oldest confirmed living American. So what's her secret? In an article by The Associated Press, Weaver attributed her longevity to three aspects of her lifestyle: "have faith, work hard, and love everybody." 

Have faith
This doesn't necessarily mean you have to find religion in order to live a longer life. While Weaver follows religion strongly, studies show that having any kind of faith will help. Simply being mindful or practicing spiritual activities like yoga or meditation can produce the same effects, according to WebMD's 2008 survey of centenarians.

Faith might also extend your longevity because it promotes conscientiousness, a quality that was listed as the No. 1 tip in The Huffington Post's "100 Ways to Live to 100." When people want to follow rules and do what's right, they eliminate a certain aspect of danger from their lives and, as a result, typically live longer.

Work hard
Though many might associate work with stress, and stress with a shorter lifespan, research has shown that working into your old age can actually increase your longevity. In the book "The Longevity Project," it was concluded that those who lived the longest were also some of the hardest workers. This could be attributed to the personal need for a purpose in life, which is an important factor of longevity (and being happier).

And it's no surprise that people with money live longer. Being wealthy increases a person's access to quality care and reduces financial worries, which are a key stressor among seniors.

Love everybody
Weaver's final tip was to show love to everyone you meet, and there's ample research that shows she's on to something. The Huffington Post cited one University of Michigan study that proved volunteers who did so for the sole purpose of helping others lived longer. This natural inclination to love is what Weaver was getting at when she listed her tips for healthy aging

And it doesn't stop with strangers. Research from Duke University Medical Center found that older people with spouses also live longer. Weaver was married in 1915 at the age of 17 and stayed with her husband until he passed. 

According to the Gerontology Research Group, Weaver is the 11th oldest person of all time, spreading hope that, with the right attitude and a healthy lifestyle, living well beyond 100 is becoming a greater possibility for everyone.