The Oldest Old

Bristlecone Pines

In the spring of 2015 Scientific American published a special edition (Volume 24, Number 1) titled “Secrets of Staying Young”. The third last article, on page 100, is titled “The Oldest Old”. This article was written by Thomas T. Perls who at the time of writing was Professor of Medicine at Boston University and a Geriatrician at Boston Medical Center.

Before getting to this article you will find one about the maximum life spans (in years) for various species. For humans the figure is 122 years attributed to Jeanne Calment, a Frenchwoman who lived from 1875 to 1997. Other species listed were dogs (29 years), cats (38 years), Galapagos tortoise (176 years), Bristlecone Pines (4,713 years) and a type of jelly fish (immortal). The Bristlecone Pine reference got my attention. I have seen Bristlecone Pines on Windy Ridge near Breckenridge, Colorado. They are especially hearty and able to grow and persist in hostile environments.

Bristlecone Pines

Bristlecone Pines on Windy Ridge in Colorado

Getting back to the Oldest of the Old of the human species, in addition to Jeanne Calment a number of other centenarians are highlighted in this article. The Oldest Old are people older than 95 years. These people “are often healthier and more robust than those 20 years younger.” Why do some people live to such ages, some going to numbers greater than 110 years? The article suggests genes, healthy life styles and good luck as possible reasons.

The oldest old have their own ideas as to why they have been blessed with long healthy lives. Here are some of them.

Gertrude Weaver who died at 116 years enjoyed “manicures, wheelchair dancing and Bible study. She said the secret to a long life is trusting God and being kind to others.”

Walter Breuning who died at 114 years “dressed in a suit and tie every day, attributed his longevity to staying mentally and physically active (he did not retire until age 99) and to his diet: a hearty breakfast and lunch but only fruit snacks in the evening.”

Misao Okawa who died at 117 years said “three large meals a day (sushi is a favorite) and getting at least 8 hours of sleep at night “is important. She also said “you have to learn to relax.”

Jeanne Calment who died at 122 years is quoted as saying “If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.” Other Oldest Olds have been quoted as saying “Eat light to live long”, “Not to get angry and keep a smile on your face”, “Don’t let things upset you”, and “Stay single and get to bed early.”

Note: The author of this Scientific American article is the Principal Investigator of the “New England Centenarian Study.”