Official studies have claimed that to live a very long life, it’s important to maintain friendships, to keep a positive attitude, not to stress out too much, and to just have really amazing genes. Here are some seemingly odd ways that centenarians and supercentenarians (a person who lives at least 110 years) claimed helped them live such a long time.
1. Drink a mysterious elixir.
When he turned 108 years old, former Army Chaplain and minister Reg Dean gave out the usual spiel on the secrets to longevity, claiming there were five things to remember: “Good friends, a religion, looking for the best in people not the worst, and being a vegetarian for 30 years have all helped ... but I can't remember the other one.” Two years later, his son revealed what that fifth secret was: “When he was out in India, just before World War I, he was given an elixir by a local there. He did a favour for one of the locals and this guy said, 'drink this and you'll live til at least 100.'” Dean supposedly drank the “muddy mixture” and lived to be 110.
2. Use a lot of olive oil.
Jeanne Calment died on August 4, 1997, at the age of 122 years and 164 days old, still the longest confirmed human lifespan on record. Calment smoked two cigarettes a day for almost 100 years. The habit was so strong that she only quit when she was 117 and too blind to see well enough to light her own cigarettes. Calment credited her long, long, long life to drinking Port wine every day, eating two pounds of chocolate every week, and keeping a sense of humor. Most prevalent of all was extra virgin olive oil—Calment consumed a rich diet of the stuff, which she put in everything but milk, and also rubbed on her skin.
3. Mind your own business.
Besse Berry Cooper-Brown was a retired Georgia school teacher who lived to be 116. She took pride in her mostly spotless voting record—since 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed allowing women to vote, she had only missed voting twice. Those two years were 2012, when her health was finally starting to fail her, and in 1948, when she was one of many who erroneously believed that a Thomas Dewey victory was a lock.
Cooper-Brown predictably credited refusing to eat junk food as one reason for living so long, but she also said that “her secret was staying out of others' business.”
4. Eat bacon.
Susannah “Miss Susie” Mushatt Jones was the oldest living resident of New York until she died in 2016 at the age of 116. As a reward for never smoking, drinking alcohol, partying, wearing makeup, or dyeing her hair, Jones enjoyed eating four strips of bacon every morning, in addition to scrambled eggs and grits. One of her nieces claimed that if she didn't have her gum, barbecue chicken, or beloved bacon, you'd get “told off.” Another niece theorized that only being married for “about five years” and never having children was good for Jones's health.
5. Booze it up.
Emma Morano died in 2017, when she was 117 years old. Before she passed, she made a point to mention that she enjoys chocolate on occasion. Morano also consumed three eggs and drank a glass of homemade brandy every day.
Former Staten Island, New York, resident Nancy Lamperti, who lived to be 105, also drank alcohol—but unlike Emma, she sipped wine. And Southern Comfort. And Budweiser. Every day.
6. Drink boiled water and smoke cigars.
Christian Mortensen passed away in 1998 at 115 years and 252 days old. He gave credit to living for so long to friends, no alcohol, staying positive, singing, a good cigar, and drinking lots of good water—specifically, boiled water. He claimed that moderation was the key to being able to smoke cigars throughout his long life.
Another supercentenarian cigar aficionado was Walter Breuning, a man who remembered getting his first haircut on the day of the assassination of President William McKinley. Breuning actually quit smoking when he turned 103 because they became too expensive, but started again years later when he began receiving cigars as gifts.
7. Eat until you’re 80 percent full.
Jiroemon Kimura lived to be 116 years and 54 days old. A former post office worker, Kimura lived in his later years with his grandson's widow in a two-story wooden house. He ate a breakfast of porridge and miso soup with potatoes and vegetables every day, kept a positive attitude, and always paid attention to contemporary politics in his native Japan. His motto was “to eat light and live long,” never smoking, only moderately drinking alcohol, and eating until he is 80 percent full. How you can tell exactly when you are 80 percent full is something that Kimura never got a chance to elaborate on.
8. Eat bee pollen and honey.
Maine native Fred Hale Sr. was 113 when he passed away in November 2004, a few weeks after witnessing his beloved Boston Red Sox win the World Series for the first time in 86 years. At 108, he became the Guinness record holder for oldest driver and was allegedly still getting annoyed at people he believed to be driving too slowly. Hale said he partook in the “occasional nip” of whiskey, and every day ate bee pollen and honey. His snack choice might have something to do with the fact that Hale retired in 1957 as a railroad postal worker—and beekeeper.
9. Eat chicken brains.
Australia’s oldest known man has some longevity advice that may not leave you feeling very peckish. In addition to the six prawns he eats daily, Dexter Kruger—who turned 111 in on January 13, 2021—credits eating chicken brains for his long life. “You know, chickens have a head. And in there, there’s a brain. And they are delicious little things,” he told the AP. “There’s only one little bite.” Kruger's more than just a creative eater: According to his Twitter bio, he's also the oldest author in the world. The former cattle rancher is currently writing his autobiography, which is sure to be filled with many other nuggets of wisdom.
A version of this story originally ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2021.