A 103-Year-Old Nun’s 10 Daily Secrets for a Long, Healthy Life

Loyola University Chicago's famed "basketball nun" shares what she eats, the relationship tip that's key to fulfillment and healthy living, and more.

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Thousands of fans around the country know “Sister Jean” for her enthusiastic support of the Loyola University men’s basketball team, having gone viral at age 100 with her cheerleader-level antics. But Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt is so much more than a Catholic nun who loves basketball, and who for years has served as the team’s chaplain.

As Sister Jean looks to turn 104 years old this summer, her first book, Wake Up with Purpose! What I’ve Learned in My first Hundred Years will be released on February 28, just in time for March Madness. In the memoir, “the basketball nun” shares her greatest lessons from working as a teacher, volunteer and spiritual leader for more than 80 years.

Sister Jean gave The Healthy @Reader’s Digest a sneak peek of what she recommends in the book for good health and a long, happy life.

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Sister Jean’s secret to happiness at 103 years old

“I can tell you the secret to living a happy life,” Sister Jean told us. “Everyone needs to know what they have done well, a pat on the back. Tell other people what they do well, and then do that for yourself, too.”

She says that every night, the last thing she thinks about before she goes to sleep is one thing she did well that day—something she’s proud of or feels good about. “Too many people go to bed thinking about everything they did wrong and then they wake up sad, and that’s heartbreaking,” Sister Jean says. “This way I fall asleep happy and I wake up happy, every day. You can choose happiness, and being happy helps you be mentally healthy.”

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Sister Jean’s tips to a healthy life

Sr. Jean’s infectious smile and sense of humor are evidence of her ongoing joy and love of life. But she has other healthy living tips, as well.

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Prioritize nutrition

Growing up during the Great Depression, Sister Jean learned her mother’s way of making nutritious meals that don’t cost a lot of money. “Always have a protein and a vegetable at every meal,” she says.

Eat dinner with loved ones

Turn off the TV and put down your phone, and eat at least one meal a day with your family or friends. “Spending time with your family each night is an opportunity to eat together and to talk about your day,” she says.

Follow a schedule

Every day, no matter what, Sister Jean goes to sleep at 8 p.m. and wakes up at 5 a.m. She says following this routine for sleep, meals, and activities keeps her motivated and on task.

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Keep fun, active hobbies

Sledding was her favorite activity as a child and she still enjoys it (safely!). “Make at least one of your fun activities be active,” she says. “I’m a huge fan of sports, obviously, and playing sports is so good for children. It teaches life skills, exercise, nutrition, and sociality.”

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Eat breakfast

“I have eaten hot mush, like oatmeal, every day for breakfast since I was a small child,” she says. “It’s filling and delicious and has lots of fiber.”

She also drinks coffee (which research has shown is good for the heart, liver and more) and a small glass of cranberry juice.

Take a walk outdoors every day

Even during frigid Ohio winters, Sister Jean’s parents took the children for a daily walk outdoors—a tradition she still enjoys. “Get outside every day, no matter the weather. The cold is good for you. Just bundle up and you’ll be fine,” she says.

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Enjoy the occasional treat

Don’t be fooled: She doesn’t always eat a perfectly healthy diet. “Good pizza is, well, really good!” Sister Jean laughs, adding that she adores the Loyola cafeteria’s mac-and-cheese and eats sweets in moderation.

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Help others

A large part of Sister Jean’s life as a nun and chaplain is service to God and to others. She says each day, she looks for someone she can help and is well-known at Loyola for offering a listening ear and sympathetic advice to generations of students.

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Pray daily

Having daily spiritual rituals, including reading her Bible, praying and meditating, help her feel centered and start her day off right. “Every morning, I wake up and immediately pray, thanking God that I’m still here,” she laughs.

Don’t be afraid of a do-over

Life, like sports, can feel competitive—but, Sister Jean says, just like there’s always a new game to be played, there’s always a new day. “When I taught eighth grade, one day the class came in and they were too excited, lots of arguing and talking. And I got a little frustrated,” she says. “So I told them to be quiet for 30 minutes. I calmed down and after the 30 minutes was up, I stood up and greeted them just like it was the beginning of the school day! I told them that today was a do-over day and we could start fresh.” She says the experience taught her that any of us can decide to have a do-over day at any moment.

With her infectious spirit, unwavering faith, and avid sportsmanship, Sister Jean has captured hearts worldwide and we’re excited to see what she does next. Perhaps a sequel is in the works?

“Absolutely,” she says. “When I’m 200, I’ll write the next one.”

For more inspirational interviews and fact-based health advice, get The Healthy @Reader’s Digest newsletter and follow The Healthy on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Keep reading:

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Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, MS, is an award-winning journalist, author, and ghostwriter who for nearly two decades has covered health, fitness, parenting, relationships, and other wellness and lifestyle topics for major outlets, including Reader’s Digest, O, The Oprah Magazine, Women’s Health, and many more. Charlotte has made appearances with television news outlets such as CBS, NBC, and FOX. She is a certified group fitness instructor in Denver, where she lives with her husband and their five children.