7 Ways to Stay Young: Nuns Reveal Their Secrets

Whoopi Goldberg is no nun, but she played one in Sister Act, where she befriended three other nuns all named Mary and made the convent’s choir into a rollicking, soulful act.

Wikipedia Image
Wikipedia Image


Dr. David Snowdon obviously is no nun either. He’s not even a monk. But he is an epidemiologist, who spearheaded a study to decode Alzheimer’s disease as he researched the lives of 678 nuns at the School Sisters of Notre Dame. All had willed their brains to research on death.

Aging with Grace could have been a deadly dull read, but I kept turning the pages because the author was able to intertwine the excitement of scientific research with personal stories. These nuns shared valuable life lessons about “Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives,” part of the book’s sub-title.

Here are the seven I gleaned from Snowdon’s book:

  1. Keep your sense of humor

 Just before she turned 90, Sister Genevieve Kunkel marveled at her wellbeing. She said, “I have two good traits . . . I am alert and I am vertical.” 183


  1. Mingle with the young

When pressed about her other secrets for staying young, Sister Genevieve admitted, “Maybe it’s because I’ve always been with the young.” An educator, she had taught young people from grade school through college and was currently reading a Harry Potter book. She also read nearly every issue of the Sunday New York Times.


  1. Enjoy eating as a social occasion.

Share mealtime with others when possible. “The air in the convent dining room buzzes with laughter and . . . chatting.” 168


  1. Help others

Healthy nuns served themselves during mealtime. Then they took turns helping sisters in the assisted-living wing by pouring drinks, cutting their meat and helping them take their medications.


  1. Stay “With It”

Sister Clarissa, age 90, drove around the convent in her motorized cart dubbed “Chevy” and knew “as much about baseball as any die-hard fan a third of her age.” (She sounds a lot like my Aunt Cecilia!)

Sister Dorothy Zimmerman drew others into Scrabble games, often closely contested.


  1. Keep Moving

 Sister Esther Boor, who lived until age 106, sat on her “exercise” chair and regularly pumped the pedals on a stationary “bike.”


  1. Wake up every day with purpose

Sister Matthia knitted a pair of mittens every day for the poor. Every evening she recited the names of all 4378 former students until her death less than a month before her 105th birthday.



  1. Pray and Meditate

Dr. Snowdon admits “while we cannot directly measure intangibles such as faith and social support, the Nun Study would be incomplete without acknowledging their powerful influence.”

Want to know more about these marvelous women? You can read my review here.

Here’s a link to the book!


Here is your invitation to add to my list of seven. You can also comment on the tips you find here.

Thank you!


56 thoughts on “7 Ways to Stay Young: Nuns Reveal Their Secrets

  1. Good morning, Marian! I’ve seen articles about the study, but I haven’t read the book. It seems to me that one thing all of the “tips” you shared have in common is that they all look at life in a positive, engaging way. I think, too, there’s a mixture of thinking of others and sharing, while spending some time in contemplation. They are both aware of others, sharing and caring, and self-aware, but not self-absorbed.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Marian, Thank you for recommending this book! I checked it out of our local library and finished reading it just this morning. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Made me want to stop in and visit the Baltimore Province of the School Sisters of Notre Dame! Maybe I’ll up my intake of Folate! Dr. Snowdon seems to have a unique combination of scientific expertise, delight in personal interactions and appreciation, if not personal experience, with the spiritual aspect of life. On a personal note, I greeted “Miss Ruth” last evening when I took Daddy to the dinner table. They eat at the same table.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a coincidence – Your finishing the book and finding my post here. I’d call that serendipitous. Yes, if folate is good for pregnant women and chaste nuns, it positively must work for us too!

      I am happy to hear that you dad and my aunt eat at the same table. Even if Aunt Ruthie can’t quite place him, she must know he looks familiar. I remember your parents coming to Ruthie’s door and assuring her that the ice cream social at Bossler’s would go on even if she couldn’t help. I also remember her sharing with him the names of the folks she helped through Lutheran Social Services. I assume he wanted the information as part of the Bossler history.

      We plan to visit her soon, probably in January.

      Thanks for checking in here and connecting with me in Goodreads book-land, Leona.


  3. That really sounds like a fascinating book to read. I love the nuns’ young and cheerful spirit and I agree with keeping young by working with the young: best thing about teaching, as you really have to keep up with what’s new. 👍

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I believe many nuns choose a teaching career because it’s another way to mother. As you say, staying in contact with the young and keeping abreast of what’s new (often technologically) is a key to keeping a young spirit. You epitomize that very thing, Fatima.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Earlier in my career I got to travel frequently for business meetings, retreats, or conferences, and often those were held in nun convents because of the cheap lodging and fine food served so cheerfully. It also seemed to ground our work in a wonderful spiritual setting (rather than a Comfort Inn meeting room). One meeting was at a convent in the Rockies of Colorado, and as I strolled the grounds on a lunch hour or early evening break, I walked through their cemetery. All of a sudden I was aware that many many of the stones marked lives lasting 90-100 years–many more than the average cemetery (not scientific count here). The long spans were noticeable and I began reflecting on what it was about the nun’s life that might have led to such a record of longevity. I will check out your review!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the confirmation of longevity here. Now I wonder if being simply being set apart from the world has benefits. Though unquantifiable, it seems to me nuns (and monks) are at least at 1-2 degrees of separation from the stresses of our modern world.

      Your comment reminds me of the convent in Rome we stayed in during our trip to Italy. Cliff and I stayed in the St. John the Baptist room. I remember the language barrier and their reluctance to admit us. Even though we made reservations as Mr. and Mrs. Beaman, were in our late 50s and wore wedding rings, they seemed concerned that maybe we were not married – just having a fling, which of course we were – ha!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ve also heard about this study. Enjoyed the excerpts you shared! A couple rather obvious additional reasons, personal opinion based on knowing and working with many women religious, for their mental sharpness: 1) a strong sense of purpose; 2) high levels of formal education (especially in more recent decades) with continuing education for most; 3) attention to health care. There is a reference above to the value of community and by and large I’ve observed this is a positive but perhaps a bit idealized. In many modern orders women may live in smaller groupings often of their choosing (a plus). Obviously, these are just my observations and not scientific in any way.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oops. I see purpose was cited above, We should say women religious have purposes including: teaching, nursing, school principals, For example,Sr, Ann Ida Gannon (Sister of Charity, B.V.M.) was not only President of Mundelein College Chicago for many years. She also served on numerous Corporate Boards. Nuns/Sisters today participate in broad roles and levels throughout society. Knitting mittens is not to be maligned but hardly representative. I just want to offer an updated perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes, I would think the smaller groupings would be a plus. Along with less peculiar attire, the camaraderie of such a group would appeal to me. Though I was never a nun, I was addressed as Sister Longenecker for three years when I taught at Lancaster Mennonite School where I began my teaching career.

      I appreciate reading your insightful comment here, Audrey. Thank you!


      1. Thank you for your gracious receiving of my comments. One of my family of origin sisters was a religious sister for several years living in a smaller community setting. And, little-known fact, I too seriously considered entering a Dominican order, And, while working as a lay staff person at a justice center comprised of a coalition of female and male religious congregation members, I met a member of a Sisters of Providence order but their mother house was in Indiana. I highly respected all of them!

        Liked by 1 person

    3. According to Snowden, “Our own pilot study found a clear link between higher education and healthy function in later life. And most of the large studies throughout the world have found links between lower levels of education and Alzheimer’s.” P. 80

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Yes, Snowdon discusses that fact and I speculate on the reasons why: link between higher education and access to better services – awareness of lifestyle choices and good health, other factors?

          Leona, you made me smile at your page notation. You are still a student (a good thing!) and habits of younger years translate here in your comments. I too can’t resist inserting page numbers when I write. And when I quote, page numbers are a must. But I see I’m preaching to the choir here. Thanks for adding your nuggets of wisdom to the conversation – so appreciated!

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember a study of the brain that when you are sugar the brain would turn red wish indicated pleasure. Same study when you read a heartwarming article book or watch a movie same affect. When reading the Bible the same. Serving people or pets gives the same affect and staying connected groups.

    Both my grandmothers were surrounded by family – one in a very loving way. She cooked til the day she died with many family members at her home. The other I don’t know if she had Alzheimer or just didn’t want to speak to not have to answer if we asked why she abandoned my mom. No matter, I enjoyed having her and so did my mother for the last ten years of her life. She died at 97. I was blessed to accompany my mother to hospice at four in the morning. When my grandmother heard my mother’s voice she looked up at her and relaxed as if to say I’m not alone. I thanked the nurse that was at the side of her bed reading Psalms 23 to her. I don’t know if my grandmother knew the Lord but I kept reading to her. When I noticed her slipping away I told my mother she’s leaving. Mom if there’s anything you have to say or ask this is the time sound is the last to go. It was a beautiful moment to see my mom loving her mother despite wherever happened. To see my grandmother leave in peace. God has a way of giving us special moments. Wonderful post Mariana. I agree with finds great sense of humor,serving, sharing, exercise, and time with God recipe for long healthy life.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are definitely the “keeper of the flame” in your family’s legacy. I’m glad you concentrate on the good your mother did even though you are still not at peace (maybe mystified even) at her decisions on mothering earlier in her life.

      And you are to be commended for practicing what this book preaches about living a fulfilling life. Thank you, Gloria!


  7. I’m glad you found the book as informative and fun to read as I did, Marian. I’ve been reading lots of aging books, and this one stands out. You remind me that I want to finish the Riffle List I started on Aging books.

    And, of course, we have hit another serendipity. Not only do we usually post on the same day, but often our subjects intersect. This time I wrote about the value of having a young colleague, just finishing her dissertation. Just following the advice of item #2 on your list.

    And, since you love book recommendations, here’s another, before I even read it myself. But I get to have lunch with the author tomorrow! http://www.onbeing.org/blog/with-eyes-to-see-and-ears-to-listen/7575

    Liked by 2 people

  8. When I saw THE NUN’S STORY, I went through yet another period of thinking I wanted to be a nun. The first was when my mom took me to see SOUND OF MUSIC, but I think the decision was made thinking I’d end up marrying royalty and having a grand escape adventure. My own Mother (Superior) mom took it all in stride, reminding me that I wasn’t Catholic, so I should probably begin by learning the basics.
    SISTER ACT’s songs, music, escapades, and the lessons the faux nun learns and teaches make this film an all time favorite, and the movie proved all the main points of the book.
    Thank you for this wonderful post! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I mentioned Sister Act in passing. Thank you for elaborating on it here.

      Your anecdote about “Sound of Music” made me smile, knowing you were serious about practicing faith and having adventure. My story: When Cliff met me on a blind date he was startled by how closely my dress resembled a nun. When we saw The Sound of Music together, I was more convinced than ever that I did NOT want to be or look like a nun. We both agree we fell in love watching that movie on a Cinerama screen.

      Thanks for prompting sweet memories here, Marylin.


    2. Yes! I remember seeing THE NUN’S STORY (Audrey Hepburn, I believe) and deciding then and there I wanted to be a nun. Not Catholic, but who cared? When that didn’t work out, I thought I monk might be the way to go. I’m not there yet, but one of these days. …

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Marian — I clean our little carriage house to the sound track of SISTER ACT (the first movie) because it’s full of vim and vigor and gets me shakin’ my booty!

    I’ve just added AGING WITH GRACE to my reading list, thank you for sharing it with your readers here.

    My “secret” goes hand-in-hand with number 1 on the list of 7: laugh, Laugh, LAUGH. I find something to belly laugh about every single day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe Sister Act sound track will motivate me to clean more efficiently. My method lately has been of the Gasp & Clean variety: I gasp at the dust or dirty floor and then clean it away. You have been a prime mover in getting me to down-size, so I will take your helpful hint about keeping a cleaner house.

      Today I need the prompt to laugh. Thanks for always showing up here with encouragement, Laurie. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  10. When we were in the Belgian Congo we took holidays on the Atlantic Coast and we stayed with Catholic Sisters in a Convent that also served as a guest house. Our children were young at the time and we still have a knitted doll that one of the sisters gave them. This sister was convinced that our oldest would soon “wear the veil” if we stayed long enough! I guess we weren’t there long enough, but we certainly did enjoy their laughter and sense of humour, a great aging antidote!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You have led a rich life, geographically and spiritually too – loved the anecdote.
      I certainly don’t associate nuns with laughter and humor either, but this quality was pointed out again and again in Snowdon’s book. The nuns you encountered too abounded with humor, the wittiness that it originates from perhaps another expression of intelligence. I wonder . . . .


  11. Thanks Marian, this is so great! I know of these wonderful nuns and their secret in aging with grace and good cheer. All the comments are lovely too, so I don’t have too much to add – except perhaps that aging is a reality and it can take us by surprise! But a good heart and good cheer, seeing the beauty around us in nature, good friends, willingness to reach out, compassion, and I’m sure many many more, are all wonderful qualities that help us traverse this age and stage of our lives. I’ll be checking on the links later thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Susan, for echoing the affirmations here and mentioning that aging can take us by surprise. Of course, aging itself is no surprise but I really felt my limits this year during the move. Probably my feet will never be the same, but I am still vertical (!) as Sister Genevieve remarked. I’m so glad we are partners in this process!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. “Youngsters” like you can start using this wisdom long before some of us have done, Rebecca. One thing for sure you wake up every day with purpose just keeping Sage on track. More power to you! And thanks for the comment.


  12. A sense of humour is paramount, it keeps us all going to see the funny side of things . There was a time I didn’t GET humour , I wanted to but just didn’t understand it . Now I realise it is the fuel we all need to cope , to get us through .
    Colin my hubby has always had a sense of humour…. it’s a joke cherry he’d say …and it would go right over my head .
    Amazing lady that nun .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One reason I married Cliff is because of his sense of humor. I was so serious when I met him. He has tickled my funny 😂 bone many times since then. So, yes, Cherry, I certainly agree. Thank you!


  13. Great review, Marian. Thank you for introducing me to this book. I understand the importance of laughter and family dinners. I’m glad I can also find solace in silence. I wonder if the book talks about the petty grievances that must arise because they’re human.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Snowdon as scientist concentrated on the data that would support his thesis. Also, he was looking at the women through a “male” lens and either may not have detected petty grievances (strictly my opinion) or chose not to include them in the book. As I recall, he did remark that twins he studied, both nuns, had decidedly different dispositions: one who saw the glass as half full and the other who had a life-long struggle with depression – a fact that adds to the quandary in the nature/nurture discussion.

      I like how you tease out the “other side” in our discussions here. Happy to have you in this book club, Elaine. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Recently read, “Live Long, Die Short” by Dr. Roger Landry who cited several of the studies you mentioned. Both encouraging and informative read. Highly recommend.

    To help keep myself on the ‘Live Long’ side of life, I enjoy line dancing, helps with coordination, balance, memory, and social engagement. Met many new and interesting people along the way..

    Try something new, overcome fears. Stretch yourself, literally: emotionally, physically, spiritually with friends who are smarter than you and have different talents/gifts. Open to serve others when opportunities arise.

    Thanks Marian for being such so encouraging in every sense. Special lady.

    Happy Anniversary.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Carolyn, you are a poster girl (woman!) for a vibrant third act. I admire your dancing through life and staying engaged in every way, including the spiritual.

      August is our anniversary month, not December. Someone has hacked my Facebook account and posted “old” news without my permission. I changed my password and hope the silliness on FB will stop – pronto.

      Thanks for stopping by here with a comment. I hope this means that your computer problems are history. Merry Christmas!


  15. These are all wonderful and logical tips to staying young and living long. My Great Aunt Barbara practised all 7 of these, playing scrabble regularly until she passed away at age 95, with a sound mind. She also swam twice a week and prayed daily. I want to be like her when I grow up!

    Liked by 1 person

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