A few weeks ago we had an expert in longevity come to campus and discuss the field’s cutting edge research. He started his talk asking the class of 20 or so students, ‘Who wants to live to 100?’ I immediately raised my hand and then surprisingly noticed that I was the only one. He smiled and asked me why.

I have longevity on both sides of my family, with my grandmothers and a some of their siblings reaching well into their 90’s. They had their wits about them till the very end and had very few chronic illnesses. It seems only natural that I will also live a long time and, with modern health care, reach 100.  But when he asked the other students why they did not share my enthusiasm, I realized my experience was unique.

Most students said they envisioned people in the 90’s and 100’s as immobile, sickly, mentally ill individuals. Overwhelmingly, this was their experience with aging family members. Yes, they wished to live in good health for as long as possible, but in their minds good health did not extend into the oldest ages.

Research on centenarians tells us that if you do make it to 100, you are most likely exceptionally healthy. “Time’s research found that today’s centenarians are mostly very healthy people. ” And your genetics do not necessarily define your future. Genetics play a role but keeping mentally and physically active, eating right, refraining from smoking or excessive drinking, and continuing to be social and optimistic can really increase your chances of living a long life.

Some people don’t want to live without fast food, alcohol, and a sedentary lifestyle. They may feel that the benefits of living longer aren’t worth it. But I would ask those people to consider how their health may be in the decades before reaching 100. One must consider that this lifestyle could mean you’ll be immobile, sickly, mentally ill in your 70’s and 80’s. No matter how long you expect to live, taking care of yourself now will benefit you later. I think this is what students should keep in mind as they observe their grandparents in old age. You are not destined to their fate.

I too must keep this in mind. My genes do not ensure me a spot among the centenarians if I don’t stay as healthy and active as my grandmothers did.