Imagine if you lived to be a healthy hundred years old or beyond. Do you think there would be particular reasons for your longevity? Or would it be due to luck and good genes?
Do you think your reasons would be the same as for today’s Centennials? Is that realistic given that their lifestyles have been very different from ours?
These questions came to mind when I read about the death of one of the world’s oldest men, Alexander Imich, at 111 (ref. 1). To answer the questions, I took a trip down memory lane to discover what the centenarians and super-centenarians (those who reach 110 and beyond) revealed as their longevity secrets.
The Longevity Secrets of the Centennials and Super-Centenarians
Alexander was originally a Pole who survived two Worlds Wars, and a Russian Labour Camp before moving to the USA in 1951.
Many Poles of that generation, (my parents included), credit this tough upbringing for their fierce independence, a determination to transform the negative into a positive, and to keep going no matter what.
This fiery spirit fuelled by a good diet (except during war conditions), regular exercise and an “incredible curiosity about life and insatiable appetite for knowledge,” are what Alexander’s friends claim are “the real keys to his longevity.”
In fact he was so passionate about science and paranormal activity, he published a journal titled “Incredible Tales of the Paranormal” — at the age of 92 (ref. 2).
Besides being a perpetual student, scientist and athlete, he also loved ice cream…now there’s a man who knows how to live!
Similar longevity characteristics are shared by Jiroemon Kimura,,who until his death last year at 116, was recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest man in recorded history (ref. 3). His family members reveal the reasons for his healthy long life:
“He has an amazingly strong will to live. He is strongly confident that he lives right and well……Grandpa is positive and optimistic and especially cheerful when he has guests. He’s well with a good appetite.”
Another fellow countryman, Japan’s Misao Okawa, the world’s oldest living person at 116 years old, also enjoys a good appetite. She celebrated her 116th by tucking into a creamy cake decorated with strawberries and candles! (ref. 4)
Indeed, she credits a healthy appetite - especially for her favourite food - sashimi (raw fish,) and plenty of rest for her longevity. According to Japanese media she has gained nearly nine pounds in the past six months. (Though that may be media hype)
Are There More Longevity Secrets?
So far we have seen how a fiery zest for life and knowledge, healthy nutrition (maybe ice cream and cream cakes are questionable!) and plenty of rest may help to explain why Centennials live healthy and long lives.
But if this is true, how can one explain the longevity of Jeanne Louise Calment of France? The Guinness Book of World Records claims she is the: “the oldest living person whose birth date could be authenticated by reliable records” (ref. 5). She was born in 1875 and died in 1997 at the age of 122
Calment was spirited and mentally sharp until the end, despite being blind, almost deaf and confined to a wheelchair. She started fencing lessons at 85 and rode a bicycle until 100. At 121, she released her two CDs, one in French and another in English titled, “Maitresse du Temps (Time’s Mistress), which featured Calment's reminiscing to a score of rap and other tunes.
Yet despite this vitality, according to French researcher Jean-Marie Robine: "She never did anything special to stay in good health."
She smoked and ate two pounds of chocolate a week, until, at the age of 119, she stopped at her doctor’s urging. It was claimed she did this because she could no longer see well enough to light her own cigarettes, and she refused to ask for help!
The best reason International researchers could come up with to explain her longevity and vitality was her “immunity to stress”. She once said: “If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”
The researchers’ conclusion may be sound. There is solid research supporting how stress can be a slow and silent killer as evidenced in the powerful documentary: “Stress: Portrait of a Killer” (ref. 6).
In Calment’s view, she explained her long life to be due to her olive-oil-rich diet, a sense of humour and an occasional glass of wine.
Although it may be true that Calment’s lifestyle was not the healthiest, it is true that a zest for life and ‘Joie de vivre’ are key to longevity.
They are certainly central to some of the following longevity pearls of wisdom from more centennials and super-centenarians. Note, we don’t necessarily agree with all of them – like “avoiding vegetables”!
Longevity Pearls of Wisdom
- Fauja Singh, who ran a marathon at age 100 sums up the secret of longevity as: “Laughter and happiness. That’s your remedy for everything.”
- Ruth Frith, who died at the age of 104, recommended avoiding smoking, drinking and vegetables.
- Ann Nixon Cooper, who died in 2009 at 107, described herself as a happy, giggly person. Being cheerful, and dancing the electric slide at age 103, are her secrets to a long life.
- Edward Rondthaler, who died in 2009 at the age of 104, credited his longevity to cold showers
Perhaps some of the most sound advice about how to lead a long and happy life comes from Jaralean Talley, who at 115 is the oldest living woman in the United States (ref. 7):
- Follow the “Golden Rule” (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you)
- Have a sense of humour
- Indulge occasionally
- Have strong beliefs
- Surround yourself with loved ones
- Be humble and act wisely
- Keep active.
I think all the factors mentioned here are relevant.
But I also suggest that perhaps the one that unifies them all, and gives them meaning, relates to your relationship with others. Specifically, it’s the feeling of being comforted and inspired because you know that you are loved and valued by those you treasure most.
That is at the heart of what motivates most of us to keep going, to do our best.
What do you think are the keys to happy longevity?
- Report about the death of the world’s oldest man http://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/09/us/oldest-man-dies/
- The book ““Incredible Tales of the Paranormal” can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Incredible-Tales-Paranormal-Poltergeist-Levitations/dp/1883647037 \
- Until last year Japan’s Jiroemon Kimura, was the oldest man in recorded history http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-11/jiroemon-kimura-oldest-man-in-recorded-history-dies-at-age-116.html
- Japan’s oldest living person celebrates in style! http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asia/worlds-oldest-person-kind-happy-turn-116-n45116
- Information about Jeanne Louise Calment http://anson.ucdavis.edu/~wang/calment.html
- The documentary “Stress: Portrait of a Killer” illustrates how prolonged exposure to stress can ruin your health in a multitude of ways https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYG0ZuTv5rs
- Jaralean Talley explains her recipe for longevity http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/23/jeralean-talley-oldest-american-woman-birthday-turns-115_n_5379938.html