Secret of Longevity:

Looking for the Secret to Longevity

by Josh Day

Live fast. Die Young. Leave a good looking corpse.

We've all heard variants of that famous phrase. The idea and mentality of "living fast" -- damn the torpedos, damn moderation, you only live once -- and dying at the pinnacle of your life before you even take the first step downhill was popularized by the European romantic poets of the late seventeenth century.

Romanticism was one of the literary whiplashes to the enlightenment, turning its back on sterile reason and embracing nature, beauty, and the ethereal. Like the reactionary and degenerate Beat generation two hundred years later, the romantic poets lived a "fast" lifestyle which they had no qualms about flaunting to the world. The Green Fairy, or absinthe, the hallucinogenic alcoholic beverage made from wormwood which remains banned in the United States to this day, was popularized by the romantic poets. As you can imagine, living life in the fast lane involved a lot of drugs, a lot of sex, and a whole lot of rock and roll.

Living life without any boundaries clearly has one glaring side effect: a premature death. If you do it right and go fully unhindered, you're not going to live to see gray hair in the mirror. To the romantics, this was a good thing, a passionate thing, even a noble thing. Why live to a boring old age when you can go out young, be remembered as a youth, and "leave a good looking corpse?"

Good or bad, this outlook is still prevalent today, especially among many celebrities. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison were good examples from the self-indulgent 60's. Unlike their contemporaries (many of whom still live today), the three J's died at the zenith of their musical careers. They never saw their popularity dwindle and they never lost hold of their talents simply because they died before the pendulum began to swing back on them, as it inevitably does to us all.

Whether it's foolish or noble, getting snuffed out in your late twenties or thirties isn't the most pragmatic thing you can do with your life. When Captain Picard and Commander Riker stood on the destroyed bridge of the crashed Enterprise D, they shared the following interchange:

"Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived. After all, Number One, we're only mortal."

"Speak for yourself, sir. I plan to live forever."

While we don't yet have the capacity to live indefinitely, relative longevity is something many of us will enjoy. While many of us will surpass the average world lifespan of 66, a very tiny few will perhaps stick around for as long as 110 years.

Living to (or over) 100 was not a tenet of the romantic poets, nor is it of modern rock and roll artists, unless your name is Mick Jagger.

However, longevity is something most of us strive for. And who hasn't wondered if there's a secret to living past a century? Many have sought a motif, a pattern of diet or attitude, in a centenarian's lifestyle that may provide a clue as to why they live so long.

Let's examine some famous supercentenarians.

Jeanne Louise Calment was the longest living person in recorded history, having died at the age of 122 years and 164 days. Wikipedia states the following:

Jeanne Calment's remarkable health presaged her later record. At age 85, she took up fencing. At 100, she was still riding a bicycle. Jeanne lived on her own until shortly before her 110th birthday, when her cooking caused an accidental fire in her apartment and it was decided that she needed to be moved to a nursing home. However, Jeanne was still in good shape, and was able to walk until a fall at age 114 years and 11 months.

Jeanne survived a hip operation in January 1990 to become the oldest verified surgery patient. Although she needed to use a wheelchair afterward, Jeanne remained talkative and received frequent visitors until her 122nd birthday, at which time it was finally decided that her health status had declined and warranted privacy. Indeed, it was said by Jean-Marie Robine that this 'allowed her to die,' because the attention had kept her going. Jeanne Calment died five months later.

Calment also had a brother who reached 97, a father who reached 93, and a mother who reached 86.

Sarah DeRemer Knauss lived to 117 and died in 1999, nearly one day away from the millennial turn into 2000. Wikipedia reports:

In 1995, when asked if she enjoyed her long life, Knauss said matter-of-factly: "I enjoy it because I have my health and I can do things." Her passions were said to be watching golf on television, doing needlepoint, and nibbling on milk chocolate turtles, cashews, and potato chips.

"Sarah was an elegant lady and worthy of all the honor and adulation she had received," said Joseph Hess, an Administrator of the Phoebe-Devitt Homes Foundation facility where Knauss died quietly in her room. Officials said that, to their knowledge, she had not been ill.

Interestingly enough, the woman who held the record for the oldest person alive before her was a life-long vegetarian.

Julie Winnefred Bertrand died at 115. She never married, and upon her death her nephew described her as "tough, feisty and self-sufficient."

Christian Mortensen was known as the world's oldest man for a time at the age of 115. Professor John R. Wilmoth, a longevity researcher, writes:

The things I remember most about Chris are his love of cigars, his steady and practical approach to life, his strong singing voice even in his final years, his bitter memories of a wife whose name he had almost forgotten, and above all, his sense of humor.

He knew he was the oldest man in the world, and he was proud of that fact. When Jeanne Calment died at the age of 122 during August of last year, less than two weeks before Chris’ 115 birthday, it appeared for a few days that Chris might be crowned the oldest person in the world. In any case, he wanted that distinction. When they told him, just two days before his birthday, that there was a woman in Canada who was (verifiably) about 2 years older than him, he said, "They did that just to ruin my party!"

I have been asked many times about the secret to Chris’ long life. There is no easy answer. In many ways, Chris broke the mold. We know that smoking tobacco reduces one’s chance of living long, but Chris loved cigars and probably smoked a few per week from the time he was 20 years old until his death.

Likewise, single men aren’t supposed to live as long as married men, but Chris was single for almost all of his life (he was probably married for less than 10 years). Chris also had few of the social and economic advantages that may contribute to long life and good health. He had no fancy college degrees or high-status jobs. He worked as a tailor, as a milkman, and in a factory. He was never rich, but in the end he was famous. He led a simple, somewhat solitary life. No one could have expected that this man would become one of the world’s oldest. (Wilmoth)

Emiliano Mercado del Toro made it to 114. Once again, here is Wikipedia:

[Mercado] credited his longevity to funche, a boiled corn, codfish and milk cream-like dish which he ate every day as a habit. Mercado also claimed that his sense of humor was probably responsible for his long life, and he would tell jokes and humorous anecdotes almost to the end of his days.

Finally, we come to the inventor of modern-day flash-fried ramen noodles, Momofuku Ando, who died at 96 years. Unlike many of the 110 plus-year old people listed above who died blind or nearly blind in nursing homes, Ando was active until the week he died.

We know ramen noodles aren't the best prescription for long lasting health, yet Ando claimed to have eaten a pack of chicken ramen every day.

Wikipedia states: "Ando claimed that the secrets of his health were playing golf and eating Chikin Ramen almost everyday. He was said to have eaten Ramen until the day before he died."

Playing golf and eating chicken ramen every day? And golf isn't even a strenuous sport, especially when you have a caddy and a golf cart to ride around in!

As you can see, there are very few discernible patterns for super longevity. Speaking factually, what we do know is that genes play a large role in longevity and that universally women live longer than men. But the short life summaries above clearly show the amazing range of diet, lifestyle, and attitudes among the six people listed.

Although it's impossible to definitely catalogue factors in longevity, several elements repeat in many supercentenarian lives.

  1. Maintaining a good sense of humor throughout life. Many people over the age of a hundred claim their "sense of humor" as a key factor in living so long. Many of these people continue to tell jokes and funny stories until the end, some even still joking before the day they died.

  2. Staying self sufficient. The overwhelming majority of supercentenarians I researched lived on their own past their 90s, some even beyond 100. A few even continued to mow their own lawns, as well as do their own shopping and maintaining an acute mental state on par with people forty years their junior.

  3. Embracing tenets of the "Type B" personality. While stubbornness is a factor among many supercentenarians, having the ability to go with the flow and not dwell on negativity while "loving life," as many supercentenarians have put it, is just as important. Letting stress skip off you like beads of water from a high pressure hose striking a puddle keeps the mind young and the body limber and flexible.

  4. Eating fish and other seafoods on a daily or semi-daily basis. Fish and many seafoods are rich in the highly nutritious and critical Omega 3 fatty acid. This form of Omega-3 cannot be found in plant matter and other substitutes. Eating fish regularly is a common trait among many supercentenarians. Unfortunately, our American culture is rife with a mercury hysteria right now, which is largely bogus, and many people are cutting fish out of their diet.

  5. Keeping a hobby and staying active. Having a hobby or a passion is like a lifeline, keeping you rooted in this world and alert. Gardening, quilting, fiber arts, fishing or fish keeping, or collecting various items are all good examples.

  6. Moderation. While the romantic poets scoffed at moderation, many supercentenarians employed moderation throughout their lives. Too much of any one thing is usually a bad thing, and too many bad things stack your odds against a long life. So pass on the keg stands, absinthe, and smoking and try to do all things in moderation.

I've come to my own conclusions about living 100 years or more, and I'd like to share my opinions with you below, in order of what I believe to be the most critical and descending from there:

  • Avoid medical intervention unless absolutely necessary and do not blindly trust medical science. While many, many people equate so-called modern long life to "medical science," the fact is scores of us are dying from chemotherapy, excessive and unnecessary surgeries, misdiagnosis, and secondary infections picked up in hospitals. You can read the numbers yourself and draw your own conclusions.

  • Don't compromise your immune system with questionable vaccinations. Unfortunately, for most of us, this is already too late. However, as Americans, we do have the power to decide what is injected into our children and what is not. Click here if you're scared of mercury in fish and learn what was injected into millions of children in the form of a "vaccine."

  • Kick your drug habits. And I'm not talking about weed, meth, or coke. I'm talking Vioxx, Prilosec, and all the other pharmaceutical nostrums that're pushed on TV more than liquor, beer, or tobacco ever was in the history of the United States. We may still be fighting the "war on drugs," but the irony is jugular-deep because we're the most medicated and hyped-up society on Earth.

  • Live life in moderation. Do not indulge too much in anything. Yes, throwing moderation to the wind may be trendy and the romantic poets are still famous, but remember how Jimi, Janis, and Jim went out: choking on his own vomit in bed, dying in a hotel room from whiskey and heroin, and dying in a Paris bath tub with dried blood on his mouth and nose.

  • In our day of highly processed foods and environmental poisons, eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, getting sunlight and natural vitamin D, and avoiding junk food will highly contribute to the number of years built into your genetic heritage.

  • Live your own life your own way, and don't let anyone ever tell you differently. Do your own homework and decide things for yourself, and don't let others do this for you. This includes doctors, health authorities, preachers, and so-called religious leaders.

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