A Hundred Years to Live

17 03 2010
Picture of Gertrude Baines, 115th birthday

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

How many people would wish for an unusually long life, if they had their druthers?

The average lifespan in the U.S. (around 77 years) doesn’t seem like enough time to experience…everything.

Extending the lifespan is a hot topic in the health world. Everywhere we look, there’s a new fountain of youth beckoning. Whether it’s antioxidants, calorie restriction diets, or extreme exercise regimens, everybody is looking to live just a little longer, or to sell the idea that we can.

Centenarians—those among us who’ve made it to their 100th birthday or beyond—get honors galore from the rest of us, but we also view them with puzzlement.

They’ve outlived their friends, their children, numerous presidents, and probably a spouse or two.  They have memories of events most of us only read about in history books.

Everyone wants to know what their big secret is.

Some know exactly how they lasted so long (“I ate three raw eggs for breakfast every day!”), while others are more modest, happily unsure of how they passed the hundred-year mark.

And then there are the old-timers who’ve flown in the face of accepted science. One supercentenarian (aged 110 or greater) credited her many years to crispy bacon and regularly enjoyed fried chicken and ice cream.

Studies have shown that women generally live longer than men, and it is thought that most centenarians have some sort of genetic mutation giving them an advantage when fighting off disease. All are usually thin or of average weight and most never smoked or drank to excess. Most have interests or a purpose beyond themselves—family or religion, for example. More obscure reasons, like where their ancestors hailed from, also seem to play a role.

We’re a a long way from pinpointing what body processes, genes, and environmental factors exert the most control over how long one lives. But in our fast-food, 24-hour, desk job society, the advice on how to live to be a centenarian holds as much common sense as ever:

“Eat sensibly. Keep walking. Keep knitting. If you can’t keep friends, make new ones. Plan so much invigorating work that there’s just no time to die. And no regret when you do.”