Older adults who are socially engaged and don’t smoke dramatically improve their chances of living to age 100, researchers in New Zealand have found.

“Electing not to smoke and committing to maintain social networking will be the best investment one can make towards successful ageing,” said Yoram Barak, an associate professor at the University of Otago.

He said being socially active requires interacting with non-family members, whether that means visiting friends, volunteering or participating in activities such as attending a concert or playing golf.

The researchers examined data relating to 292 centenarians who were free of common chronic diseases such as diabetes, depression, dementia and hypertension. They also included information relating to a further 103,377 older people aged over 60.

The centenarians were more likely to be female (75%); in any age group, women were more likely to be free of the common chronic diseases.

Barak added that the biopsychosocial foundations of remarkable health and longevity among centenarians remains unclear. Genetic factors, certain geographical locations and lifestyle characteristics all have been studied in an effort to identify potentially contributing factors.