Ever wonder about news reports about someone who lived to be 100? Then you see their image, and the centenarian looks ne’er a day over 80! Check out some answers to the age-old question, “What is the secret to long life?” Answers vary from “I don’t drink, smoke or party,” to “I still exercise daily, even if it’s just walking,” to “I rarely go to the doctor – somehow I never get sick!” And still others just live life day to day. Simply. And on their own terms.
Currently there are more Americans than ever over age 100, and they’re also living longer than ever. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of Americans aged 100 or older has increased 44 percent in recent years. Doctors note that improvements in vaccines, antibiotics, and hygiene are likely factors for their longevity. People are more educated about their health, understand the importance of staying active, and are paying closer attention to eating healthy.
Even though heart disease, stroke, and cancer rank as the leading causes of death for centenarians, it’s Alzheimer’s disease that has crept up in the rankings, increasing 119 percent since 2000. Interestingly, people who are physically fit enough to survive over 100 years ultimately succumb to a disease afflicting their mind’s function. In other words, their mind gives out before their body does. Such are the biological reasons and recorded studies of longevity. Aren’t you interested in the thoughts and hearts of those who thrive for so long?
Beyond the science of gerontology, listen to long-lifers who shared their passions, what they avoided, and how they tackled life in general. Although I chose a couple who lived in a bygone era, I believe their sentiments still ring true today.
George Burns (1896 – 1996; lived to be 100)
The cigar-wielding comedian, actor, singer, and writer is one of my favorite people who lived to be 100. If you remember George Burns, you’ll recall a time when humor and integrity were often used in the same sentence. He never complained that his childhood was cut short to work, resulting in a life of comedy as a means to cope with great tragedy. Even then, it took two decades before he truly succeeded – an accomplishment in patience and loyalty in allowing time to be on his side while making (not waiting for) those dreams to come true. He made a living helping people forget their worries through laughter.
But through it all, he credited the love of his life, Gracie Allen, his on-stage partner and the key to their success and rise in Hollywood. Ego aside, George knew when to shine and when to let her steal the show. Love and laughter could very well be their factor in longevity, yet he said, “If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.”
Jeanne Louise Calment (1875 – 1997; lived to be 122)
A French supercentenarian who has the longest confirmed human lifespan on record, Jeanne Louise Calment outlived both her daughter and grandson by several decades. Among other fascinating facts, at age 113 she was the last living person to have personally met Vincent Van Gogh. Young Jeanne was reportedly 12 years old when she met one of the most famous artists in history during his visit to Arles, France.
Additionally, she defied all the healthy reasons a human would survive so long. The French, who celebrated her as one with the wisdom of humanity, had their own theories about why she lived to such an advanced age, noting that she ate two pounds of chocolate weekly, drank port wine, treated her skin with olive oil, rode a bicycle until she was 100, and quit smoking only five years before her death.
Researchers, baffled and curious about Jeanne, interviewed her extensively. One remarked, “I think she was someone who, constitutionally and biologically speaking, was immune to stress. Jeanne once said, ‘If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it’.”
We all agree that a healthy lifestyle is one of the keys to living a long life, and I would never advocate pursuing anything less. But I love hearing about those who did what they wanted, loved what they did, and didn’t question so many things that came naturally. In the end, after getting to know supercentenarian Jeanne Calment, I didn’t feel so guilty about running out for that chocolate donut with sprinkles I had been craving all morning! Happy living…
Abella Carroll is a freelance writer