10 tips for a long and healthy life from my 90-year-old grandmother

In the last couple of months I’ve read inspiring articles about men and women in their 90s leading exciting, active lives. They’re downhill skiing every day, doing martial arts, tangoing, or have daily yoga practices. Awesome, but it’s hard to picture myself skiing every day now, never mind in 45 years.

Then there’s my grandmother, Irena, who just turned 90. Though she isn’t skydiving or kite-boarding on a daily basis, she lives on her own, drives, walks daily, does exercise classes three to four times a week, cooks for herself, sees family and friends, has interests and hobbies, spends time with her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and is completely independent.

In other words, she is living a life that feels realistic and attainable and that helps me visualize the trajectory of the choices I’m making today.

I asked her to share what she’s learned about living a long and healthy life, and these are her top tips that will hopefully get us all to 90 and beyond:

1. Keep moving. Irena told me that “walking up and down stairs, stretching, exercising, and just staying active is the secret behind a healthy lifestyle”. She tries not to spend too much time sitting, goes to exercise classes for 45 to 60 minutes, three times a week, and she’s going to be adding a fourth class: yoga for seniors.

2. Make physical activity convenient. Setting up your life so that it is easy to make good choices is essential. “All my classes are close enough that I can walk, or drive there in five minutes in bad weather. I make sure that I don’t have to spend a lot of time getting there because that might be the difference of me going or not going.” When faced with two healthy choices always choose the one that is most convenient for you to make over and over again.

3. Sometimes you have to give up things you think are wonderful. Irena also credits her longevity to the fact that she gave up sodas (note: she doesn’t miss them), never drank, except for the odd glass of wine, and does not smoke.

4. You are what you eat. Irena believes that what we put in our bodies is just as important as what we don’t. “In my ’50s I started making big changes to my diet, trying macrobiotic eating, the raw food diet, and veganism. In the end, I realized that moderation works best for me and now I eat a mostly plant-based diet with the occasional piece of meat, no hormones or antibiotics.”

5. Find ways to manage your stress. Like everybody, Irena deals with stress, however she’s found some great tools for dealing with it, like being active, connecting with a friend, and mindfulness and meditation. She’s taken courses to help her learn how to use mediation in her daily life and when all else fails, “It’s always nice to phone a friend and go for a walk.”

6. Plant a veggie garden. I remember visiting my grandmother when I was child and seeing her working in her garden. She is a big promoter of gardening both as an activity and as a means for growing food that you can trust. “If you have even a little backyard I recommend growing your own veggies. Food is so different now. I haven’t tasted a real watermelon in years. It’s helpful if you can grow your own, even if it’s just a few veggies.”

7. Train yourself to have good sleep habits. We’re always hearing how critical sleep is and my grandmother agrees. She also is the first to admit that her own sleep habits have slid a little as she’s gotten older. But her message about sleep is that establishing good sleep habits is one of the most important things you can do. “Get in to the habit of going to bed at 10 p.m. in a quiet room with no electronics. It might be hard at first but it’s important to remember that everything takes work.” I think it’s a good idea to not take sleep for granted while we can still get it, i.e., that window between babies and bladders, keeping us up at night.

8. Be present and don’t forget to play. One thing that strikes me about my grandmother is that she’s never lost her youthful love of play. When she’s with her great grandkids she’s really with them. She listens to them, paints with them, and plays with them, and she did the same with all her grandchildren. The kids know that she is really seeing them without any distractions and they are crazy about her. I can’t help but think that this ability to be in the moment and play is one of the things that have kept her so young all these years.

9. There are always trade-offs. Sometimes you have to decide which healthy thing is more important for you. As a sensitive person, the pollution of the city isn’t the best for my grandmother and she thinks she’d be even healthier if she lived in a rural area. But she tells me, “My family is here and my friends are here so I would lose that connectedness, which is key to my good health and happiness”.

10. Start right now. The most important thing my grandmother told me as we discussed a long and healthy life is this: “You have to live the life you want to live later. If you want to be well when you’re 90, get around on your own, and cook your own meals, you have to start now. And if you haven’t started it yet it can still be done.”

Who are your lifestyle role models? Tell us about them on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below.

15 responses to “10 tips for a long and healthy life from my 90-year-old grandmother

  1. My grandmother is around 80 years old. She can’t move properly. I will try to follow all suggestions for my grandmother’s health. I love her so much. Thanks for sharing your article.

  2. This is so beautiful and informative to the level of practically realistic. Oftentimes I read articles that set an always unreal healthy lifestyle in my opinion. This one resonates well with me. I will share this with my 83 yrs old Dad & 77 yrs old Mom. I am 46 yrs old & been trying to live a healthy life without too complicated of stressful & unrealistic goals & regimen. Your Grandma’s life story is a gem! God bless you for sharing. Continue to be safe & healthy. ????????????????????

  3. My 90 year old mother is excessively exercising – cardio (stationery bike and jogging) for FOUR hours EVERY DAY. Why is she doing this? It’s a touchy subject that she will not discuss.

    1. You are so lucky! My mom hardly will exercise at all. I bought her a stationary bike. She won’t use it. I used to beg her to go walk.hardly does. I tried getting her walking in the pool did twice. I don’t know what will happen to her.

  4. Quality of life is just as important as longevity. Try and live life to the fullest, with as few regrets as possible.Accept the ups and downs,of life,and deal with them,with your fullest ability.Of course there are people who have had some more tough breaks than others ,and I symphatize and pray for these individuals,also try to help each other when people are in need if you can.Don’t be selfish with your love of humanity.Love to you all.

  5. Lovely inspiring story I am 93 and collect in Supermarkets for different charities the conversations I have are incredible. I have collected thousands of pounds and run marathons my last race was a 10k 3 years ago. I finished last. my secret is my diet I only eat plant foods as much as I like and find them delicious I do not miss meat dairy cheese etc I cannot believe how soon I got used to it

  6. Yes…. U enjoyed reading what this wonderful grandmother do
    to keep living well….
    I got some ideas from her so I can do myself or try…..

  7. Your grandmother is an inspiration to us all, I’m 57 years old and yes I’ve made some mistakes in the past but my health is extremely good according to the cardiologist and all of my bloods. I exercise every day of the week, eat healthy and keep a positive attitude towards life. I hope to be able to live a life like your grandmother __best wishes always and thank you!!!! Ps :if you want to Gmail me, feel free..

  8. Thanks for sharing such a nice post, these tips are really very helpful to stay healthy and live a long life. You’re doing a great job. Keep it up.

    1. I’m delighted you found them helpful. Thank you for the feedback (and I’ll pass it along to my grandmother who is still doing great at 92).

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[gravityforms id=10 title="false" description="false" ajax="true"]
<div class='gf_browser_unknown gform_wrapper gravity-theme active-start-form_wrapper' id='gform_wrapper_10' ><div id='gf_10' class='gform_anchor' tabindex='-1'></div><form method='post' enctype='multipart/form-data' target='gform_ajax_frame_10' id='gform_10' class='active-start-form' action='/tips-for-long-healthy-life/#gf_10' > <div class='gform_body gform-body'><div id='gform_fields_10' class='gform_fields top_label form_sublabel_below description_below'><fieldset id="field_10_11" class="gfield active-start-name-field gfield_contains_required field_sublabel_below field_description_below hidden_label gfield_visibility_visible" ><legend class='gfield_label gfield_label_before_complex' >Name<span class="gfield_required"><span class="gfield_required gfield_required_asterisk">*</span></span></legend><div class='ginput_complex ginput_container no_prefix has_first_name no_middle_name no_last_name no_suffix gf_name_has_1 ginput_container_name' id='input_10_11'> <span 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Birthday<span class="gfield_required"><span class="gfield_required gfield_required_asterisk">*</span></span></label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_date'> <input name='input_1' id='input_10_1' type='text' value='' class='datepicker mdy datepicker_no_icon gdatepicker-no-icon' placeholder='mm/dd/yyyy' aria-describedby="input_10_1_date_format" aria-invalid="false" aria-required="true"/> <span id='input_10_1_date_format' class='screen-reader-text'>MM slash DD slash YYYY</span> </div> <input type='hidden' id='gforms_calendar_icon_input_10_1' class='gform_hidden' value='https://activeforlife.com/content/plugins/gravityforms/images/datepicker/datepicker.svg'/></div><div id="field_10_13" class="gfield gfield--width-full gfield_html gfield_html_formatted gfield_no_follows_desc field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible" ><p>Only one kid per email address.</p> <p>Active Start is for children 4 and younger.</p></div><div id="field_10_4" class="gfield field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_hidden" ><div class='admin-hidden-markup'><i class='gform-icon gform-icon--hidden'></i><span>Hidden</span></div><label class='gfield_label' for='input_10_4' >Age When Submitted</label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_text'><input name='input_4' id='input_10_4' type='text' value='' class='medium' aria-invalid="false" /> </div></div><div id="field_10_5" class="gfield field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_hidden" ><div class='admin-hidden-markup'><i class='gform-icon gform-icon--hidden'></i><span>Hidden</span></div><label class='gfield_label' for='input_10_5' >1st Birthday</label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_text'><input name='input_5' id='input_10_5' type='text' value='' class='medium' aria-invalid="false" /> </div></div><div id="field_10_6" class="gfield field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_hidden" ><div class='admin-hidden-markup'><i 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