Imagine blowing out 100 candles on your birthday cake. If the idea appeals to you, you're not alone—two out of every three Americans say that they want to live for a century, according to a survey sponsored by the Alliance for Aging Research. What's more, a growing number of studies suggest that many of them just might get their wish.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are currently some 79,000 American centenarians in the United States, and their numbers are expected to double within the next decade. In fact, it is predicted that 1 of every 26 baby boomers will live to be 100. According to experts, you can extend your life span by learning from the example of today's 100-and-older set.


How to Live to 100—and Beyond

Follow these tips to increase your chances of living a long, healthy life.

  • Get regular exercise.

    A study conducted by Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston tracked approximately 2,400 male doctors over the course of 25 years; they were at an average age of 72 when the study began. The participants who exercised two to four times a week (and did not smoke, maintained normal body weight and blood pressure, and avoided diabetes) had a 54 percent chance of living to 90. Those who did nothing had only a 4 percent chance of reaching 90.
  • Don't smoke-or quit today.

    According to the American Cancer Society, smoking shortens people's life spans by an average of 13 to 14.5 years. The good news is that it's never too late to quit. A Duke University study found that male smokers who quit by age 35 increased their life spans by 6.9 to 8.5 years, while women who quit boosted theirs by 6.1 to 7.7 years.
  • Manage your weight.

    Although U.S. life expectancy is expected to increase, many researchers are pointing to obesity as a factor that may force them to recalculate their predictions. A Dutch study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who are overweight at 40 are likely to die at least three years sooner than those who are slim. And a study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois suggests that the U.S. lifespan could drop two to five years over two generations because of obesity.
  • Boost your brainpower.

    Experts have long touted the benefits of mental activities—and is it any wonder? According to a study published in 2002 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people who read, solve crossword puzzles, play cards or checkers, or visit museums are less likely to undergo age-related mental decline than those who do not.
  • Get the right amount of Z's.

    It's no secret that a lack of sleep can lead to serious health problems and even shave years off your life. But that doesn't mean you should sleep the day away. A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that sleeping too much can also reduce life expectancy. In fact, study subjects who sleep more than eight hours a night had higher death rates than normal, while people who slept between six and seven hours per night lived the longest.
  • Get a dog.

    Pet owners—and especially dog owners—generally have lower blood pressure, better fitness levels, fewer feelings of loneliness, and a lower risk for depression than those who don't own pets. In fact, a UCLA study found that dog owners required far less medical care for stress-induced aches and pains than non-dog owners. In a study conducted at New York's City Hospital, heart patients who owned pets were much more likely to be alive a year after they were discharged from the hospital than those who didn't own pets.
  • Look on the bright side.

    In a study conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, optimistic people were 50 percent less likely to die an early death than their pessimistic counterparts. According to the researchers, people with a positive outlook on life are generally less stressed out and better equipped to handle adversity, which may make them healthier.

By now, the question of genetics has probably run through your mind. After all, what if your parents passed away at young ages? According to some experts, genetics plays only a 25 percent role in determining how long people will live. The rest is largely up to you.