Jack Van Nordheim, 100, knows a little something about living a long and healthy life. And people of all ages want to hear what he has to say. The centenarian living in Camarillo, California, known as Uncle Jack, shares his thoughts with his 234,000 followers on Instagram and 1.7 million followers on TikTok.
His social media following has been extremely positive. “The comments on our videos are, ‘I love you, Jack,’ and ‘Thank you so much, Jack,’” Damon Vonn, Van Nordheim’s grandnephew, companion and partner in his creative endeavors, tells TODAY.com. “And we get fan mail from all over the world.”
Van Nordheim and Vonn recently published a book, "Ask Uncle Jack: 100 Years of Wisdom." And Van Nordheim spoke with TODAY to share his longevity advice. Here are his top tips for a long and meaningful life.
Spend as much time as possible time outdoors
Van Nordheim built a life centered around nature and the outdoors. “That was the goal,” he says. He worked as a landscape gardener, a carpenter who framed houses and a taxidermist assistant with the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.
He suggests hiking and long walks for anyone looking to spend more time outside: “Walk and listen to the birds singing. I’ve been walking my whole life, since I was a small toddler.”
And ditch your cell phone, he advises. “Leave that pesky ‘magic mirror’ behind,” he writes in his book. "That way, you can open your ears outdoors and listen for the sounds of all the animals. And you can open your eyes and look for the wonder in the sky above you and the ground beneath you."
Find your passion and make room for it in your life
Van Nordheim has always been interested in animals and birds. He had what he called a backyard zoo, with raccoons, possums, hawks, pigeons, bobcat kittens and even a monkey.
He built boxes for owls to nest in, put them in trees and climbed up to check on the babies. “I fell out (of trees) many times, but I never broke one bone,” he says.
He still raises doves, and every day, he checks on them, feeds them, tends to them and cleans their cage. His birds are thriving and lay plenty of eggs.
He’s never stopped being curious about animals and nature. When he watches TV, he only watches nature shows. His room is filled with National Geographic magazines and nature books, and he calls reading the key to wisdom.
Eat simply and treat yourself to dark chocolate
When asked about the secret to longevity, dark chocolate is the first thing Van Nordheim says. “Sweetened with honey,” he adds. He likes Chinese food too, especially chop suey.
Mostly, though, throughout his life, he’s eaten a simple diet centered on home cooking — no junk food or fast food, minimal salt, and honey instead of sugar.
Adjust to life’s challenges
Van Nordheim served in World War II and was stationed in Australia helping patients who had malaria. He met a girlfriend in Australia, and after the war, they wrote letters back and forth for a long time, but ultimately, she met someone else. He never married or had children.
“I regret that very much,” Van Nordheim says. “It gets lonely sometimes. Even though I have a lot of relatives still here to come see me, I still get lonely.”
These days, he faces health issues, as well. He lives in assisted living now, and he can reach Vonn anytime on his Amazon Echo if he has a health issue that needs attention right away. He’s been to the emergency room four times recently.
“We’re usually out in three or four hours, having breakfast and singing songs,” Vonn says. “You adjust to these little hurdles.”
Appreciate your family background
Van Nordheim grew up with an older brother (Vonn’s grandfather) in “a home built of love,” where there was no cursing or drinking. “Just all love from heaven above,” he says. His mother lived to be 92, and his father died in his 70s.
Vonn points out that curiosity and artistic talent ran in the family: “Everyone drew or painted or carved or spent time with animals.” Van Nordheim has sketched and drawn throughout his life, and he used his artwork, and some of his mother’s, to illustrate his book.
What’s next for Uncle Jack?
Along with caring for his doves, spending time outdoors and sharing his thoughts on social media, he and Vonn are tackling a new project — putting together the audio version of his book.