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- Marta Fainberg celebrated her 100th birthday in August.
- She credited her longevity to adopting a low-sodium, vegetarian diet and “the luck of the draw.”
- But the centenarian said she wished there were some things in her life she’d done differently.
When people ask 100-year-old Marta Fainberg about her recipe for a long life, she often shrugs and says, “I don’t have any secrets — it’s just the luck of the draw.”
But on reflection, the mother of four admits she has gone to some lengths to stay fit, healthy, and alert.
“I have my regrets, but think I’ve looked after myself in general,” she told Insider.
The author Dan Buettner, who hosts the popular Netflix series “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones,” has written about the five different regions of the world where people live the longest.
The healthy clusters include a small community in California called Loma Linda. While Fainberg said she had never heard of the concept of Blue Zones, she lives only a two-hour drive from Loma Linda.
Like many “Blue Zoners,” she doesn’t eat meat, limits her intake of salt, and does light exercise. She believes these habits have helped her live longer. She shared four of them with Insider — along with two things she wished she’d done a little differently.
She left her comfort zone
Fainberg said that she vowed not to stay in her home state of Indiana at an early age. “I felt that it was a farm state and my opportunities were limited,” she said.
The 100-year-old decided that the best way to move away was to become a high achiever in terms of academics, even though it was a challenge.
“I’d always been a very average student but around middle school, I asked my older sister, a straight-A student, to mentor me,” she said, adding, “I ended up graduating fifth in high school.”
She won a scholarship to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “I was determined to go to a big city college,” she said.
After she graduated, she landed a job as a set designer at a major Hollywood film studio. “I earned $3.50 an hour,” Fainberg said. “It was the equivalent of $50 an hour in today’s money.”
The well-paid position for the time led to another and she became an architect. “It was a man’s world back then, but I gained a lot of confidence from having a career before getting married, ” she said.
She watched her weight
Fainberg said that growing up, she mostly ate a “traditional” Eastern European diet of meat and potatoes because her parents had immigrated to the US from Poland and Russia.
She was told by a teacher that she was 10 pounds overweight and independently went on a diet at the age of 11. “I stopped eating bread and potatoes and didn’t have extra servings,” she said.
The successful diet, she said, led to her watching her weight throughout her life. She kept it steady, she said, by eating healthy foods and doing exercises such as cycling and roller skating.
Now, she stays fit by walking 1,500 steps a day around her house or in the backyard when the weather isn’t too hot.
She adjusted her diet to offset health issues
The centenarian said that she developed some health problems when she was in her early to mid-30s, such as water retention that made her ankles and feet swell.
“I retained fluid if I ate anything with too much sodium,” she said. The grandmother of two, who said she also inherited high blood pressure from her parents, went on a “no-salt-added diet.” The swelling largely subsided.
These days, she’ll occasionally buy packaged food such as vegetable patties but always checks that it contains less than 400 milligrams of sodium.
She stopped eating red meat in the early 1970s and later “happily” became fully vegetarian. She said that she has kept up her energy levels over the decades by eating proteins such as eggs and low-sodium cheese. “They provide a quick, high-protein meal,” she added.
She still wears makeup, swears by cold cream, and doesn’t color her hair
As for Fainberg’s beauty routine, she has never used soap on her face. Instead, she splashes water on her face and puts on a generous amount of cold cream before going to bed.
“I use the cold cream to take off my makeup and find the residue softens my skin overnight,” she said.
She said she uses foundation to even out her skin tone and a dash of lipstick when she goes out.
“I used to have red-blonde hair, but now it’s much lighter,” Feinburg said, adding that she never dyed it back to its original color.
She wishes she’d stayed out of the sun
“I was out in the sun a lot when I was younger because I thought I looked healthier with a tan,” she said.
She said that her social life at USC centered on the beach. “I didn’t wear sunscreen or even sunglasses,” she said. “That was poor judgment.”
As a result, she said, she underwent bouts of skin cancer. “I had a lot of operations when they had to remove it and do skin grafts,” Fainberg said.
She said that the worst-affected places were her nose and lower lip. “The discoloration of my nose is the main reason I wear foundation, and I have a little scar tissue on my lip,” the matriarch said. “Being out in the sun so much is something that I really regret.”
She’d liked to have traveled more instead of feeling societal pressure to marry young
Fainberg said she felt she missed out on traveling to other countries after leaving college. “I think I felt the pressure to hunt for a husband,” she said. Nonetheless, she got married at 26 — “a relatively advanced age” for that era.
“I would have liked to have seen a lot more of the world when I was young, especially Europe,” she said. She said that her love of art and career in architecture had fueled her desire to visit the continent.
Instead, she said that once she got married — her husband, Seymour, died in 2018 at the age of 96 — she enjoyed regular vacations in Hawaii.
“Seymour and I visited Hawaii a lot,” she said, adding that they became creatures of habit as they got older.
Correction: October 11, 2023 — An earlier version of this story misspelled Marta Fainberg’s last name.