More People Are Living Longer, and Movement Is the Key

3 min read

May 14, 2024 – Toni Stahl was still hitting the gym well past her 100th birthday. 

The centenarian worked out three times a week, enjoying balance and strength conditioning the most. She also loved the friendships she made there.

“I do as I feel, and I like to stay active and be around people,” said Stahl, who was at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, survived cancer, and worked part-time into her 90s. “I still want to keep moving. If I sat down, I think I’d just give up."

Stahl died in March, just a few days after she turned 105. It was a short death to close a long, independent life. 

Like Stahl, more people are living to 100 than ever, and the trend is predicted to continue for decades. Exercise is playing a major role.

In short, longevity is having a moment. 

Fitness culture is now full of discussions of the distinction between “lifespan” (how long a person might live) and “healthspan” (the period of life when you’re generally healthy and free of serious or chronic illness).

Maintaining strength, endurance, and flexibility means you’re less likely to grow frail, dependent, or sidelined by common chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

One study published in the journal Circulation suggests that sticking to these five behaviors could extend a woman’s life at age 50 by 14 years, and a man’s by 12 years. They are: 

  1. Don’t smoke.
  2. Keep a healthy weight.
  3. Get regular physical activity (30 minutes a day in this study).
  4. Consume a healthy diet.
  5. Drink alcohol moderately, if at all.

All five factors are tied to the top killers – cancer and diseases of your heart and blood vessels. Taking these steps can make a big difference in your quality of life, as well as your longevity.

Reaching Triple Digits 

Reaching 100 is more common but remains rare. Still, the number of Americans ages 100 and older is projected to more than quadruple over the next 30 years, according to the Pew Research Center. Specifically, that number will grow from an estimated 101,000 in 2024 to 442,000 in 2054, the U.S. Census Bureau says.

“Centenarians currently make up just 0.03% of the overall U.S. population, and they are expected to reach 0.1% in 2054," according to the research center. 

We’re living longer because of a range of reasons – like better medicine and less smoking. A person's life expectancy depends on things like genetics, location, gender, and lifestyle, including exercise.

A study published in the journal JAMA Network Openfound that the spectacular benefits of exercise have no age limit.

"Whether you're in your 40s or your 80s, you will benefit in the same way," said the study’s senior author, Wael Jaber, MD, a heart doctor at the Cleveland Clinic. 

The study, which involved 122,000 people who were tested on treadmills over 13 years, found that sedentary people are almost four times as likely to die early as those who exercise regularly. 

"There actually is no ceiling for the benefit of exercise," Jaber said. "There's no age limit that doesn't benefit from being physically fit." 

‘Just Keep Moving’

Roy Englert is a World War II veteran who served in the Navy and survived the historic D-Day invasion.

Decades later, he has taken part in all the National Senior Games – a sports competition for senior citizens that started in 1987 – including last year, when he was 100. It marked his 36th appearance at the games. 

Englert credits his physical fitness in helping him to stay healthy and positive all these years. 

"So many people, older people, make themselves old. They say, 'I'm too old for this, I'm too old to do that.' But pretty soon, they are [too] old. They convince themselves," he told the Defense Department in an interview last summer.

His simple advice: "Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving."