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How to live to 103 like Kirk Douglas: 5 simple lifestyle changes can help

Even if there's no one elixir that will let you live to 100 and beyond, a surprising amount of power to age well rests in your hands.
Image: Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Cameron Douglas
Three generations of Douglas men: Michael Douglas poses with his father, Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas, and his oldest son, actor Cameron Douglas, following a ceremony honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Nov. 6, 2018, in Los Angeles.Chris Pizzello / AP
/ Source: TODAY

Years after Kirk Douglas made his last Hollywood blockbuster, he became a longevity star.

The actor, producer, director and author, who passed away Wednesday at 103, was a famous member of the growing ranks of centenarians in the U.S. and around the world.

"I never, ever thought I would live to be 100. That's shocked me, really," Douglas told The Guardian three years ago.

He stayed busy in his 100s and was still out and about in recent years. In 2017, the stroke survivor published a book of love letters he and his wife Anne exchanged during their decades together. They married in 1954 and Anne will turn 101 this spring.

In 2018, Douglas was at his son Michael's side when the actor received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Last August, four generations of the family posed for a group photo.

"Kirk's life was well lived," his son Michael wrote in a tribute on Instagram. "To the world he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years... but to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad."

"I shall love you for the rest of my life. I miss you already," his daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones wrote in her message.

Why do some people live so much longer than others?

Even if there's no one elixir that will let people live to 100, a surprising amount of power to age well rests in their hands. What can you do right now to boost your longevity?

TODAY asked Howard S. Friedman, a psychology professor at the University of California, and Leslie R. Martin, a psychology professor at LaSierra University, both in Riverside, California. They’re the authors of “The Longevity Project,” which showcased a study that followed 1,500 Americans over 80 years and focused on why some people lived so much longer than others.

Friedman and Martin found the healthiest people were those who lived meaningful, committed lives: They worked hard, achieved much for their families, nurtured close relationships and were very persistent, responsible and conscientious.

Rather than focusing on “yogurt, meditation, vitamins and spas,” they were dedicated to things and people beyond themselves, Friedman told TODAY.

Based on the research, any of these changes can put you on a path to longer, healthier life:

1. Get out of your chair

A huge amount of scientific evidence suggests staying physically active is one of keys to long life, but going to the gym or running in a marathon is not the secret, Friedman and Martin said.

“Formal ‘exercise’ is not even necessary, although if you love exercise, keep it up,” Friedman noted. “Staying active, or becoming more active, was key. It didn’t much matter if you were a jock in college. People who regularly do things that get them up and out of their chairs are the ones who thrive.”

2. Enjoy a challenge — at work and beyond

To achieve good health and live a long life, many people think they should take it easy, avoid working too hard and take lots of vacations, but the researchers discovered the opposite was true.

“Those who worked hard and accomplished much — the responsible and successful achievers — thrived in many ways,” Friedman said.

It is a common misconception that every day stress is bad and that worrying is unhealthy, Friedman and Martin noted. But note that chronic physiological disturbance is not the same thing as hard work, social challenges or demanding careers.

Take a hard look at your situation: Having challenging work in a supportive environment and with access to the appropriate tools can be very healthy. But if you are trapped in a hostile work environment with limited ability to do your job well, it may be time to look elsewhere, the researchers said.

3. Stay connected

When it came to staying young, what mattered was staying active not only physically, but also in the social aspects of life: Being in contact with supportive family members or partners, doing things with friends and helping others, whether at work or in volunteer activities, Friedman and Martin said.

4. Consider marriage

People in stable, fulfilling marriages tend to be healthier. In the study, men generally thrived in long-term marriages, while marriage was healthy for those women who could find a devoted, supportive husband.

“But many women who simply got rid of their husbands from a poor marriage and then stayed single did well. This was also true of women who were widowed… even though the reverse wasn’t true,” Friedman noted.

“Why are women protected, even after divorce or widowhood? Good social relations, usually with other women or with community groups or their children.”

5. Be friends with healthy people

One of the best ways to get on a healthy pathway is to be around other healthy, active, involved people, the researchers said. Join social groups and take part in outings that will lead you to other healthy activities.

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