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Doctor, 102, who still works and has a 10-year plan offers simple tips for long life

Dr. Gladys McGarey considers love to be the most powerful medicine.
Dr. Gladys McGarey
Dr. Gladys McGarey was born in 1920. She is the co-founder of the American Holistic Medical Association.Courtesy Dr. Gladys McGarey
/ Source: TODAY

Dr. Gladys McGarey defines young people as anyone under 99.

At 102, she’s a little bit older but is still working as a consulting doctor, exercising daily and living mostly independently at her home in Scottsdale, Arizona.

As a physician and holistic medicine pioneer, McGarey has plenty of wisdom to share after a long life that’s provided lots of joy, but also many setbacks along the way.

She’s a cancer survivor, endured the death of a daughter and went through a divorce when she was almost 70.

That breakup happened after her husband of 46 years and clinic partner left her to be with another woman — one of the hardest phases of her life, she writes in her new book, “The Well-Lived Life: A 102-Year-Old Doctor’s Six Secrets to Health and Happiness at Every Age.”

How can people get past such setbacks?

“You just don’t get stuck in them. It’s a matter of choice: What do I choose? I chose not to be stuck in the pain and suffering. It hurt and I didn’t like it,” McGarey tells

“There comes a point where it’s just not worth my energy to spend any more time on that. I’ve got the energy to do something that’s creative and pull myself out of that and work forward.”

The philosophy is one of McGarey’s main tips for living:

Everything is your teacher

After her painful divorce, McGarey found healing and joy in starting a new holistic medical practice with her daughter, which gave her life’s purpose.

She called the experience “a huge teacher” that helped her to find her own voice as a doctor and woman.

“Up to that point, I had depended on (his) support in the things that I was saying. After that, I had to believe that what I was saying had strength and was important,” McGarey notes.

“Once I could actually find my own voice, I wrote him a letter and thanked him for giving me my freedom. Because up until that time, I did not feel that my voice was strong enough.”

The doctor also pays attention to her dreams and uses them to guide her choices, noting they’re a key to the unconscious. McGarey advises people struggling with a decision to ask for a dream before going to bed and then writing it down upon waking up to look for messages and clues from their unconscious.

Dr. Gladys McGarey
McGarey is pictured here in her 20s.Courtesy Dr. Gladys McGarey

All life needs to move

She means that on a mental, spiritual and physical level.

All of us have what McGarey calls “juice” — life’s energy, fulfillment and joy — which should be directed towards where you want to be and how you want to feel, she says.

This energy has to move, but it’s natural for people to occasionally get stuck, the way McGarey felt stuck during her divorce. When that happens, life doesn’t flow the way it should or could, she notes.

“It’s just like having a cut on your arm and picking at the scab. As long as you’re picking at the scab, it hurts,” McGarey says.

“If you’re spending your energy on something that is just keeping you miserable, uncomfortable or in a place you don’t want to be, start looking for what is out there… the world is all around you and it’s full of amazing, amazing things.”

Become aware you’re stuck and look for the path out — you’ll find it, but only when you start searching, she says. Look for light, love and hope.

It’s important to avoid getting stuck on a physical level as well, so McGarey walks every day. She’s worked up to a daily goal of 3,800 steps, which she accomplishes with the help of a walker.

Find what works for you

McGarey believes diet and exercise are important for good health and longevity, but doesn’t recommend any particular way of eating or staying active. The great-great-grandmother says she eats what she wants to eat, including chocolate cake and an occasional hamburger.

She doesn’t drink alcohol and doesn’t smoke.

“I’m not opposed to alcohol and I think wine for some people is a lovely thing. It’s what works for you,” she says.

“The individual person has to live their own individual life, so as you find what works for you, bless it and use it and work with it.”

Dr. Gladys McGarey
In 2006, McGarey traveled to Afghanistan to teach safer birthing practices in the region. Courtesy Dr. Gladys McGarey

You are here for a reason

“I truly believe each one of us has a purpose here,” McGarey says. “It’s our privilege and our responsibility to find that within ourselves.”

Each one of us is special, able to love and be loved, she adds, noting love is the central theme of her whole life. She considers love to be the most powerful medicine.

You can become better as your body grows older

That may seem counter-intuitive, but McGarey believes each year that goes by connects you more to your purpose, she writes in her book.

At 102, she has a 10-year plan to create a village for living medicine where people can "come together to practice wellness."

“I have a wonderful life and I love it because I’m surrounded by love, not just by relatives but people that I have helped and they have helped me,” she says.

“I feel healthy. I feel stronger in aspects of my being that I did not have when I was younger. So I call it aging into health — find what makes you happy and makes other people happy and go for that.”