“If I had known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself”
Hermann Doernemann, who at the age of 110 was the oldest man in Germany, speaking in 2003.
Watching Patrick Swayze and Farrah Fawcett lose their public battles with cancer makes us all feel vulnerable – and ask once again – what is the secret to living a long and healthy life?
Living till you are 100 still earns a telegram from the Queen for those in the UK and Commonwealth. Live even longer and you’ll receive another if you reach 105, and then one for every year after that.
And it looks like more and more of these Queen’s – or King’s – congratulations will be sent in the next 30 years.
That’s because according to the New Scientist centenarians are the fastest-growing demographic in much of the developed world. In the UK, their numbers have increased by a factor of 60 since the early 20th century. And their ranks are set to swell even further, thanks to the ageing baby-boomer generation: by 2030 there will be about a million worldwide.
110 and Still Going Strong
Even being a “supercentenarian”- over 110, is going to become more and more common. With medical advances, the number of centenarians is expected to reach the one million mark by 2030.
According to the New Scientist, those who break through the barrier of age 90 are the “physically elite.” They somehow escape a full range of diseases that kill off their peers, and enjoy relatively good health. Only 4 per cent of centenarians die of cancer, compared with 40 per cent of people that die in their fifties and sixties. Curiously, centenarians have remarkably low rates of Alzheimer’s.
“As a demographic group, they basically didn’t exist in the 1970s or 80s,” says Craig Willcox of the Okinawa Centenarian Study in Japan. “They have some sort of genetic booster rocket and they seem to be functioning better for longer periods of time than centenarians.”
Resilience A Key
A comprehensive study of those born in 1905 who are still alive, showed over one third of them were entirely self sufficient. The New England Centenarian Study (NECS) showed that even the supercentenarians – 40% of them, are able to look after themselves even after age 110. Clearly with so many “eldest of the old” managing on their own for nearly a century, one of the keys to resiliency is independence.
Gerontologists point to four key factors for living a long life: diet, exercise, “psycho-spiritual” and social as key elements to survival.
Thomas Perls, who heads the NECS, believes that up to 70 per cent of longevity is due to non-genetic factors. The old fashioned ways; simple foods, faith in a higher power, and close friends, will take us a lot farther down the road than promotions at work.
According to the National Centenarian Awareness project: resilient Centenarians are known to have positive attitudes, an adventurous love of life, strong will, a keen sense of humour and an ability to renegotiate life when necessary.
It is not enough to rely on good genes, or good circumstances, to enjoy a long and happy life. Often these elders withstood tremendous adversity, and learned positive coping skills that set them apart from the rest.