I read an article recently about a local woman who had turned 103 and was still living independantly, still robust and healthy, not taking any medications whatsoever, doing her own shopping, house cleaning, cooking, etc.

I thought “Wow. That’s cool.” The usual picture we have of centenarians is of shrivelled up old things in nursing home beds being tended by a bevy of care workers. In fact, however, 15% of people over 100 are still living independantly in their own homes. About 25% of centenarians are completely free of any significant cognitive disorders and most are usually healthy – healthier than people in their 80s and 90s.

Studies have found that the things most people who make it past 100 (and 80% of them are women) have in common are:

• Good genes – they have parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts who’ve lived long healthy lives
• Emotional resilience—ability to adapt to life’s events
• Resistance to stress—excellent coping skills
• Self-sufficiency
• Intellectual activity
• Good sense of humor, including about themselves
• Spirituality
• Strong connections with other people
• Low blood pressure
• Appreciation of simple pleasures and experiences
• Zest for life
• No smoking or heavy drinking
• Many play musical instruments

They also have in common a simple, sensible diet along the lines of a Mediterranean diet with an emphasis on plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds and potatoes); olive oil as the main fat source; only natural sugars; small amounts or no animal products; and no alcohol except one or two glasses of wine per day with meals.

There are about half a million centenarians living in the world today. The US has about 75,000 of them. Interestingly, while there are more 110+ year-old-people living in the US than any other country in the world, the US has one of the worst longevity ratings overall. France, Spain, Italy and Canada lead both in overall longevity and in having a significant amount of citizens that live to be 100 or more.

On one hand, I think it would be so interesting to see how the world unfolds over decades and decades. And, if I’m still relatively spry, getting to 100 or more could be good.

On the other hand, I don’t know if I could stand outliving my child and all my other relatives and friends. It’s hard enough making friends and/or finding people you have things in common with at my current age. I can’t imagine who you could relate to at 104 and/or who’d want to hang out with you.

Also, I’m not sure my pension and retirement savings will stretch to 40 years or more.

Even the healthy, active centenarians interviewed say they feel they’ve lived long enough and hope to die peacefully in their sleep — and soon.


18 responses to “Centenarians

  1. My husband’s mother’s family lives into their hundreds.

    My husband’s cousin’s husband is an EMT and would often take people to the nursing home where my husband’s grandfather was finally living. At 97, he decided it was time to stop living on his own, doing all his own cooking and gardening, and take it easy (which he hated). The EMT would stop and visit him anytime he was in the building.

    One day, the EMT came home and told his wife that he just didn’t know, but he thought that grandpa was finally losing it. Grandpa had told him today that his own aunts had been by for a visit.

    Grandpa was not loosing it though, at 110 and 107, those aunts were driving still and living on their own.

    My husband’s mother will be 93 in August. Unfortunately, her son looks older than she does. COPD will do that to you; good genes or not.

  2. I’ve been practicing to be a damn-kids-get-off-my-lawn senior citizen for years now and I am only early 30s.

    More of a consideration than whether I want to be alive at all for another 75+ years is what sort of a world this will be then. I’m not certain I will want to be in it and the US, where I live, is only getting worse, not better.

  3. I follow a woman named Ivy Bean on Twitter. She’s 104 and the world’s oldest Twitter user! I initially started following her after coming across a news story about her getting her account set up and being amazed by how sharp and lovely she was. She tweets from a laptop about her daily activities and her best girlfriend Mabel and fretting over looking fat in her pictures that appear in the local papers, etc. It just kills me.

    As happy as it seems she is, however, I’m pretty certain I have no interest in living that long. And I do love living. I just think life would be too bittersweet at that point. I think it would be lonely to have lost so many people (no matter how many new ones you may have surrounding you) and to have so many years to look back over. I’m sure my heart probably couldn’t take it.

  4. I don’t know anybody that’s over 100, but my Grandma is 92 and still lives alone. She eats in the way you said, which I have always figured was something that helped her to live so long. The other reason though is, I’m fairly certain all her internal organs are pickled and preserved because she drinks more alcohol than anyone I’ve ever met. She didn’t stop driving until she was 90 and only because her daughter sold her car and told her not to drive anymore because her vision couldn’t be trusted. She’s active and mostly self sufficient but she’s outlived two husband, two children, both her sisters and most of her friends. She’s very lonely. She’s also incredibly healthy and I could see her living past 100. I’m going to visit her at the end of the month, my Aunt claims she is “declining”, we shall see. I kinda doubt it lol.

  5. A friend from a moving job I once had (aged 93; her husband was 102) once admonished me to ‘make some younger friends’ as you go along in life, because otherwise you eventually wake up to the fact that you are the oldest one, and soon to be the only one left, and then suddenly you are.

    This has been problematic for me in the past (I’m only mid-thirties) because people younger than me were often too young to be very interesting. Maybe I’ll have better luck in my next decade.

  6. Sheryl – I guess all those good genes are no guarantee. Most people in old age are felled by heart disease, cancer and/or Alzheimer’s. If you can avoid those, you have a pretty good chance of making it. And then thee are the exceptions…

    Milan -I find that so odd; that while life expectancy in the US is significantly lower than many other countries, they have the most people over 100. So I guess if you’re American and you make it past 70 you’re not going to die until you’re over 100.

    Elaine – I think the world is always going to be what it is. Every generation has thought the place was going to hell in a handbasket from 800 BC to today. Part of the fun of sticking around is going to be to see what kind of handbasket and which route it takes.

    Lesley – Aw, come on…stick around. The loneliness factor is a big consideration; though since I’m more or less a hermit now, I should be okay. My blog posts might get increasingly disjointed however…

    Charlene – I hope you’re Grandma is still happy and spry when you see her and that she lives another dozen years or so if she wants to! You’ve got the good genes, so you have a good crack at extreme oldness as well.

    Hallie – I find that the older I get the more I end up with mostly friends that are at least 10 years younger than me. Most of the time that’s okay, but it’s also nice to be with people that “speak your language”; that have the same historical frames of reference as you. I imagine as you get on, the age differences aren’t so

  7. XUP: Perhaps but from a purely environmental point of view at least, I think I have a point.

  8. SO if you don’t drink, smoke or party – who the fuck wants to live to a hundred?
    I figure I’ll be checking out around 50 but I’ve had a REALLY REALLY good time.

  9. And those people who are in their 100s have lived through two world wars. I think that has contributed to their resiliance, self sufficiency. I somehow suspect some good humour was needed to get through those periods as well as this current one.

  10. I suspect I don’t have to worry about living that long. Quite aside from perpetual mistreatment of my body, I don’t think anyone in my family history has ever lived to be over 100 so the genes just aren’t there. Probably just as well — I really don’t think I’d want to hang around to reach the century mark.

  11. You told Elaine that every generation has thought the world was going to hell in a hand basket but in point of fact the generation that reached maturity in the year 1120 ad, thought everything was getting better.
    They were wrong too.

  12. I’m already too damaged to live to 100 and too old to die young and leave a good-looking corpse. I’m screwed.

  13. I have an aunt that just turned 99. Everytime I talk to her she tells me she just doesn’t understand why she’s lived so long. She still lives in her house, but there are cousins who come in and help, and others too. She forgets to eat, or just sits all day. But she’s very cognizant and quite capable of carrying on a conversation.

  14. My husband’s grandmother lived to be 106. Her secret? A piece of chocolate and a glass of champagne everyday. I can do that!

  15. So those centenarions that we see on the news that drink and smoke are probably making the news just for that reason. I remember this one tiny old dude with his glass of whiskey and cigar, but guess what? He was playing the piano.

  16. Elaine – Maybe. We have done quite a number on our environment.

    Lebowski – There is so much more to life than smoking, drinking and partying. Much, much more. But, everyone has a different take on that. I hope you won’t be checking out at 50, but I’m still glad you’re having such a great time.

    Violetsky – I think every era has its challenges. While living through a war was pretty rough, according to my parents, but there was also a greater sense of community and pulling together which helped people pull through. Our big problem these days is that we’re so isolated — that makes everything tougher, I think.

    Louise – You should get together with Lebowski and party it up while you still can and then go out in a blaze of glory!! Better than withering away over years and years while lying in your own excrement I guess.

    Bandobras – How do you know this? Have you traveled into the future?

    Elizabeth – Ya, but I didn’t post anything gross this time!!

    Susan – I’d be bleeding her dry for information on her lifestyle, attitude, philosophy of life, etc., etc., while she’s still cognizant. But ya, I can see the big problem with getting that old is there isn’t a lot left to do or that you can do. Is she online? She could get into Facebook or something and have all sorts of fun!!

    Linda – Hey, that sounds like a perfectly sensible secret to longevity. I’d go broke if I had to drink champagne every day though — I understand it’s much more reasonably priced in France. I don’t suppose a Kit Kat bar and a tumbler of Sparkling Baby Duck would be quite the same.

    Geewits – Ha! Something about musical instruments apparently keeps the mind sharp. I lived next door to an old Dutch guy who was in his 90s, smoked rollies, drank beer and hard liquor every day AND ate a tablespoon full of sugar every morning — something his mother taught him was supposed to be good for him. His parents lived to be 106 and 102. He was still out riding his bike every day and working his gigantic garden. Pretty much everything he ate came from that garden. So maybe his diet and all the exercise along with his good genes wiped out all the drinking, smoking and sugar? Who knows?

  17. hmmmm…. not sure i want to live that long, mostly for the same reasons you pointed out.

    as for the traits they all share, i consider all of them to be within my tool kit, except for smoking and the occasionally meat eating.