We may be obsessed with looking younger, but we're in awe of the people who live to see their 100th birthdays and beyond. To what do these centenarians attribute their long, long lives? The answers may surprise you.
Pearl Cantrell, 105, attributes her long and healthy life to bacon. "I love bacon, I eat it everyday," she told NBC affiliate KRBC. "I don't feel as old as I am, that's all I can say." Cantrell, who lives in central Texas and has outlived three of her seven children, spent her life doing hard labor outdoors; she still sews, goes to church, and goes out dancing on Saturday nights. ("It was country dancing, waltzing, and two stepping," she says.) Her most-recent birthday was a three-day-long celebration with more than 200 guests. Bacon, however, is what really kept her going; Oscar Meyer recently sent her a delivery of the smoked-and-cured meat, and she ended up riding around town in the iconic Weinermobile.
Olive oil, port, and chocolate
Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at age 122, never let her age get in the way of doing whatever she wanted. She took up fencing at 85, rode her bike until she was 100, and didn't even quit smoking until she was 117, The New York Times reported. When she turned 121, she reportedly walked all over her hometown of Arles, France, to thank the people who had wished her well. But staying active and lighting up weren't the things she says kept her young; she gives credit to olive oil, which she poured on her food and used on her skin, drinking port wine, and eating about two pounds of chocolate every week. "I've never had but one wrinkle," she used to tell her friends, "and I'm sitting on it."
Helen Reichert, 109, chalks her advanced age up to stress — or, rather, on knowing how to bounce back from it. "You don't get to be 109 without life hurling a few curve balls at you, and Reichert has had more than her share. And after each, she dusts herself off and moves on," her doctor, Dr. Mark Lachs, told NPR in 2011. "A few years back, she had a modest stroke that affected her language abilities. I don't think I've seen a patient of any age tackle rehabilitation and speech therapy the way she did." She also knows how to indulge: She eats chocolate truffles, and her favorite beverage is Budweiser. "She once announced to me that she was thinking about smoking again," Lachs said. "When I protested, she reminded me that she has outlived several other physicians and told me to mind my own business."
Peggy McAlpine, 105, became the oldest woman to paraglide in 2007, when she was 99 years old. When a 101-year-old from Utah broke her record, she took to the skies again at 104, leaping off of a 2,400-foot peak in northern Cyprus, where she lives — and she didn't let the fact that she's in a wheelchair stop her. "I enjoyed every minute of it. It was better than the last time," she told the Daily Mail in 2012. "I would certainly like to do it again — especially if anyone takes my record." She said that she has "loved heights" ever since she was a young girl, and caught the extreme sports bug when she was 80, after her grandchildren persuaded her to try bungee jumping. "I climbed to the top and looked down and saw the people like ants and my heart sank," she remembered. "But I'd gone so far, I couldn't stop. So I stepped on the platform and drew up my courage and leaped from the top."
Eating the same thing every day
Emiliano Mercado Del Toro, 115, credits a daily diet of funche — a stew made of boiled corn, codfish, and cream — for his long and healthy life, though he admits that having a keen sense of humor may also have had something to do with it. He loves to tell jokes and stories, and says that he was at a nightclub in Puerto Rico when the owner was assassinated. The then 82-year-old hid under a table "praying… or at least I was when the bullets started flying!"
Doing what you love
Dr. Laila Denmark, 114, didn't like to talk about her age. She was a doctor in Atlanta for 73 years, retiring at 103 only because she couldn't see as well as she used to, her daughter, Mary Denmark Hutcherson, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The first female pediatrician in Georgia, Denmark — a mother of five — said that her secret to longevity wasn't that complicated. “You keep on doing what you do best as long as you can,” she told her local newspaper in 2006, five years after she retired. “I enjoyed every minute of it for more than 70 years. If I could live it over again, I'd do exactly the same thing and marry the same man.”
Do what you want and eat what you want (and don't exercise). Vivian Henschke, 109, smoked for most of her life, had two cocktails before dinner nearly every night, and ate whatever she wanted, according to her daughter, Karen Preston. "Mother did nothing by today's standards to help her have great longevity," Preston told Everydayhealth.com, adding that Henschke also "never exercised a day in her life." She enjoyed dancing, but told her local newspaper that it wasn't part of her secret to longevity. "No," she explained. "I married a man who didn't dance." Instead, she says she lived to a ripe old age because she "did what ever I wanted …. when I go to a party, I am going to have a highball."
Have a hobby
Louis Charpentier, 100, worked as a landscaper and has always exercised, but he attributes his long life to staying active in his community — and to maintaining the 265 Christmas-themed foam carvings in his yard. Wood and foam carvings are his hobby, and he works on them every day. To live a long life, "keep busy doing what you like," he suggests. And don't go crazy at dinner. "I don’t eat very much," he admits, "but I always eat a fruit, a vegetable, and a little meat, and I always make sure that I get sardines and salmon at least once or twice a week."
Lille Magette, 101, once led a group of U.S. Army nurses who landed on Utah Beach just after the Normandy invasion, working to care for wounded soldiers during World War II. She says that her love of knowledge, travel, and fitness keeps her young. Anything else? "A little scotch," she admits. Satisfaction also plays a part. “I’ve seen the world and I’ve traveled extensively," she said on her 100th birthday. "I've had a beautiful life, and I love everyone."
Be curious about life
Irving Kahn, 107, is the world's oldest stockbroker, starting on Wall Street in 1928. "This was before the Depression," he told New York Magazine in 2011. He says he's never had a life-threatening illness, doesn't take cholesterol or blood-pressure medicine, and maintains a positive attitude people half his age would envy. "I don't worry about dying," he said. Instead, he reads three newspapers a day and watches C-Span to keep his mind sharp. He's read thousands of books, all of them non-fiction — "Mostly I'm interested in what's on the edges: solar energy, sending vehicles beyond the moon," he says — and is determined to stay curious about life. “If you’re alive, you might yet find the answer to something,” he explained. “The puzzle you couldn’t solve before. The capacity to enjoy learning is what matters.”
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