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A healthy, active 100-year-old shares her 3 science-backed tips for living a long, happy life

Serafina Kenny   

A healthy, active 100-year-old shares her 3 science-backed tips for living a long, happy life
  • Barbara Fleischman is an art collector and board member for many New York cultural institutions.
  • She recently celebrated her 100th birthday, but still puts on events and works out.

Barbara Fleischman, 100, has had a more illustrious life than most.

Originally from Detroit, she and her husband, the art dealer Lawrence Arthur Fleischman, moved to New York City in 1966, where they made their mark on the metropolis over 50 years.

Fleischman volunteered for major organizations including Planned Parenthood and The Juilliard School, and has been a trustee of the New York Public Library for 40 years. Her husband served on a White House advisory committee on American art under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and co-founded the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution. Thanks to their philanthropy, the couple had a gallery named after them at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1983. They also found time to have two children, now 70 and 74.

"I've just been a lucky lady all my life. First with a great husband, great daughters, wonderful friends, interesting activities, and a reasonable amount of good health," Fleischman told Business Insider. "I am just blessed."

In 1997, her husband died, and in September 2023, Fleischman left her "pretty big apartment" near the United Nations headquarters in New York to move into the Sunrise at East 56th assisted living home after her balance began to fail. Otherwise, she's still active and healthy.

Fleischman's privileged life likely helped her reach 100 in good health, and genetics probably played a part, too. But what she says are her secrets to healthy aging are accessible to most of us: She's not interested in longevity clinics favored by biohackers, for instance, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Here are three habits Fleischman has kept up across her life that may have helped her reach triple digits.

Staying busy and always learning

Fleischman stays busy in the care home by continuing to organize cultural events and talks for her fellow residents, featuring speakers from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New York Public Library, and Carnegie Hall, to name a few.

"I've been able to use my connections and friendships to invite people from organizations across the city to come and speak," she said, "and I think people have really enjoyed it."

Staying busy, or having lots of tasks to do and little spare time, was linked to better cognition in older adults in one 2016 study, as well as better memory and faster processing of information.

Fleischman also continues to learn at the assisted living center, including by watching video lectures about music from Juilliard.

Learning as we age could help maintain cognitive function and slow the decline of spatial skills and memory, according to a 2018 study.


Growing up, Fleischman was not an "exercise freak," she said, but she's started working with a personal trainer to improve her balance and has "taken it in strides."

Being fit is an obvious way to improve longevity, and maintaining balance is an important part of that because it helps to prevent falls. The authors of a 2022 study found those aged over 50 were less likely to die within 10 years if they could stand on one foot for more than 10 seconds, and concluded that poor balance is a marker of shorter life expectancy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in people who are 65 or older.

BI's Gabby Landsverk recently reported on some of the best exercises for longevity and balance that don't require a gym.

Strong relationships

"I have loads of friendships," Fleischman said, many of whom she made through her work.

"It's a pleasure to work together for a common cause and find that you have a lot in common," she added.

She also had a "wonderful marriage" with her late husband.

Strong relationships are thought to be key to longevity. One 2019 study found that women who had an active social life were 41% more likely to reach age 85 than those who were isolated.

Research also shows that older people who volunteer are more likely to be physically and mentally healthier, happier, and satisfied.

Fleischman, who calls herself a "professional volunteer," has been doing so her whole life, and says that helping others "gives her pleasure."

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