5 Lessons on Living a Long, Healthy Life, from a 90-Year-Old

Happy Old Woman

“In the end, long life is the reward, strength, and beauty.” ~Grace Paley

In September 2014, my grandmother turned ninety years old. She lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is where she has lived her entire life, and while my parents could have brought her to live with them in the US a long time ago, she has always preferred to live independently in her hometown.

I went to Rio to celebrate my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday. Although I was born there, I had not been back for over twenty-five years. I learned a lot about my country of birth, my hometown, and my relatives on that trip, but the most important things that I learned were from my grandmother.

She is healthier, more active, and more independent than most seventy-year-olds. By simply observing her, I learned some key lessons about what it takes to have a very healthy and long life. Here are the five keys to her longevity.

The Importance of Being Physically Active

When you imagine someone in their nineties, you probably imagine a person who has difficulty moving because of body aches, stiff joints, muscle loss, and a lack of stamina. You may imagine someone who needs a cane or walker to get around and can’t walk long distances without needing to stop for a break.

My grandmother is definitely not that person. She is very active every day. She cleans her apartment, cooks her meals, and does her laundry. She also goes to the market, the bank, the post office, and anywhere else she needs to go on foot.

Because she lives in a big city and almost everything she needs is within walking distance, my grandmother is able to walk to most places.

She doesn’t walk because she thinks it’s good for her. No doctor has ever told her that she needs to be more active. She is active because it’s how she has always lived her life.

My grandmother is twice my age, but she moves more on a daily basis than I do. I have to make a conscious effort to perform as much physical daily activity as she does. My grandmother doesn’t have to go to a gym to work out; her daily life is all the work out she needs.

The Importance of Living Independently

Although she has many relatives who live close by (her younger sister lives in the same building), my grandmother has lived on her own for over thirty years. She manages her finances, makes all her own decisions, and doesn’t need to rely on anyone to provide for her basic day-to-day needs.

She takes care of everything herself every day. As a result, she has been able to remain confident in her abilities and her judgment.

My grandmother doesn’t feel like the world is moving too fast for her to keep up. She knows how to use modern technology, stays current on world events and local politics, and has no problem speaking her mind. She knows that she is vital and doesn’t need anyone to tell her what to do or how to do it.

Nothing intimidates her.

The Importance of Mental Wellness

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has loved to crochet. Both my mother and I have boxes of table runners, bedspreads, and countless doilies that she has created for us over the decades.

There is plenty of anecdotal information as well as scientific research showing that crafts such as crocheting and knitting are good for your brain.

Some of the ways that crochet has been shown to improve brain wellness are by:

  • increasing mindfulness
  • requiring problem-solving
  • improving hand-eye coordination
  • encouraging creativity
  • improving ability to focus

If you think about it, the act of crocheting is very similar to the practice of meditation. Crochet is relaxing and repetitive, requiring focus without any stress. In fact, for my grandmother it has always been a stress-reducer and (without her even realizing it) a way for her to be fully present.

The Importance of Close Relationships

Although my grandmother lives alone, she has many relatives who also live in Rio. Her younger sister lives in a different apartment in the same building and they spend several hours every day together. The sisters are extremely close, but they both benefit from the independence they are afforded by having their own homes.

My grandmother is also a big part of the lives of her relatives who live abroad. She speaks to and Facetimes with my mother almost daily. She also remains in close touch with her grandchildren and her great-grandson through letters, phone calls, and video chats.

My grandmother may live alone, but she is never lonely. She chooses when to spend time with others and how much time she wants to spend them. She has worked a balance between being involved and remaining independent that works out perfectly for her.

She knows how important she is to all those around her. She knows she is still appreciated which provides a great boost to her emotional well being.

The Importance of Feeling Useful to Others

My grandmother doesn’t just live close by to her younger sister; she is also her unofficial caretaker. My great-aunt lost her sight several years ago and can no longer do a lot of things for herself.

My grandmother knows that her sister truly needs her. She does all the cooking for her and they share daily meals. She also helps her by running errands and performing other daily tasks that have become much too challenging for her.

One of the most powerful books I have ever read is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. In his book, Frankl states that finding a meaning that gives us something to live for is our best source of happiness and longevity.

My grandmother is a perfect example of Frankl’s statement. Although she and her sister bicker sometimes (as all sisters do), when I see them together I know that they have an unbreakable bond. And I know that my grandmother benefits just as much from that bond as her sister does.

These are the five keys to a long and healthy life that I have learned from my grandmother. If you want to live as long and happy a life as she has, be sure to find ways to stay physically active, maintain your independence as much as possible, enjoy activities that will keep your mind sharp, nurture your close relationships, and find a way to provide and care for others.

Do you have any longevity lessons that you have learned?

Happy old woman image via Shutterstock

About Daniela Naidu

Daniela Naidu is one of the authors for Through her life experience, she has learned that there is at least one universal truth: we all need the same life skills in order to be happy, regardless of who we are or where we live. Her goal is to provide as many people as possible with those simple skills.

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  • lv2terp

    What an amazing role model!!! Thank you for sharing and allowing us to benefit from your experience of having an amazing grandmother!!!! 🙂

  • Sharon

    I totally agree and my parents are a classic example. When they split in 1980 they both started living such different lives but in the end they are just different people with very different attitudes. I admire my father greatly because he is now 85 and still living in his own apartment, that he bought and paid off the mortgage for when in his 70s. Dad is very independent, goes for three walks every day, keeps up with news & current affairs, eats extremely healthily and has some close acquaintances but never misses a birthday card for his three great-grandchildren. Oh and Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer that had metastasised to his spine in July 2015, but would he let me come over and help him? No, he handled it all himself, taking himself to his appointments, I don’t know how he did it. But that’s what he wanted and I was finally given the OK to visit him when he was back on his feet and that was a month ago and he’s doing great. He’s had to cut back his three walks a day from 5km each walk down to 1km and he struggles with fatigue a bit but that is his only issue. And he never complains or feels sorry for himself. My hero!

  • Daniela Naidu

    You are welcome. I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed reading about my grandmother! I agree, she has always been an amazing role model.

  • Daniela Naidu

    Hello Sharon. What a great, inspirational story! I am glad to hear that your dad has recovered and hasn’t let his illness deter him from his lifestyle. I wish him all the best!

  • raychil

    Wow what an amazing guy!

  • raychil

    Ur grandmother sounds like such an incredible person! And the lessons u learnt from her r amazing, thanks so much for such a great and lovely article x

  • Daniela Naidu

    Thank you for your kind comments. I know that I have been blessed to have her. I am so glad you enjoyed the article!

  • Jasbindar Singh

    Wow – What an amazing woman! Inspirational! Thanks for sharing your grandmother’s story with us, Daniela.

  • Daniela Naidu

    Thank you, Jasbindar. I am so glad to hear that you were inspired by my grandmother. I hope you found something in the story that you can apply in your own life.

  • J

    That’s my mom! She’s 72 and very independent. She has more energy than we sisters do. You would never find her sitting idle. She’s either watering the plants or going to the market, or organizing prayer meets. My parents live by themselves and they wouldn’t have it any other way!

  • Daniela Naidu

    Hello J,
    I am glad to hear that your mom is so active and energetic at her age. I hope that your dad is exactly like her, too. Thanks for sharing about her!

  • I think anyone at any age can learn from these lessons. Like you, I have to try to be as active as your Grandmother naturally is. It sounds like she is an amazing woman. Thank you for sharing her with us.

  • Truly inspirational story! Yes, having a strong and healthy mindset..along with physical activeness is key to a healthy long life…thanks for sharing this post!