Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New England Centenarian Study Basic Summary

Doctor's advice on living to 100

- Staff Writer Bonnie Washuk
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

BOSTON - The number of people who live to 100, like Lewiston's Libby Goldman, is low, about 1 out of 8,000, says Dr. Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University's Medical Center.

Of those who live to be 100, "the larger numbers aren't doing so well," Perls said Monday. Only 20 percent are lucid.

Those in that minority can keep going to 101, 102, 103 and beyond, "as long as their minds are sharp," Perls said.

"Some people say, 'Who would want to live to 100?' I say most of us," if the disabilities associated with old age are compressed to the very end of life, he said.

The vast majority of those who live to 100 have lived independently through their early 90s, Perls said. The world's oldest known person today is Edna Parker of Shelbyville, Ind., who celebrated her 115th birthday April 20. People who live to 110 are "supercentenarians" and are rare, Perls said.

There are three common traits of centenarians, according to research in the New England Centenarian Study:

• Good genes. They have "significant genetic advantages" and lack genes that predispose them to diseases, Perls said. Longevity often runs in families.

Good health habits. Most don't drink or smoke, and they exercise. They're not overweight.

They manage stress well. Perls guessed that Libby Goldman was "gregarious and optimistic." People who live to 100 "find humor in their daily lives." They have stress, but "they seem to be able to let go of it easily."

To learn more about the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University's Medical Center, go to:

* * *

Not too helpful, as it's all stuff we knew. I think stress is the biggest problem for most people. The good news is that if you're exercising and eating properly, stress is less likely to be a problem anyway. And what better excuse to block out time for your favorite activities and to hang out with good friends?

Birthday Two-fer

Family, friends honoring 2 centenarians

No secrets to aging, but hard work helps

By Jewell Cardwell
Beacon Journal columnist

Published on Saturday, Apr 19, 2008

Their families have spared no expense nor investment of time in planning two supremely important birthday bashes today.

While the honorees' lives probably have never intersected — not formally, anyway — they share a common thread.

Josephine Fuller and Elvina Gulley are not only turning the corner on 100 years of living, but they also are doing so with style, grace and a real enthusiasm for the bridges they've crossed and what still lies ahead.

Mrs. Fuller

Josephine (Kightlinger) Fuller has always marched to the beat of her drum.

It's served her well so far.

As she approaches her 100th birthday, she sees no reason to change the recipe.

I met her this week at Forrest Motors of Ohio Inc. in Barberton, which is owned by her son Forrest C. Fuller. She is one of the partners in the parent company — Al for Limited.

Mrs. Fuller — who still gets around remarkably well — was born April 21, 1908, in Meadville, Pa., on a dairy farm; she was one of nine children.

''It just creeps up on you,'' Mrs. Fuller said about turning 100. ''You just don't think about the time.''

By the way, Mrs. Fuller insists she doesn't have any special formula for aging so well.

''I eat anything I want, although I don't care for milk,'' an animated-and-engaging Mrs. Fuller noted. ''But I do like yogurt.''

Mrs. Fuller, dressed in casual chic clothing like you might see on the golf course, has two children, Forrest of Atwater and Duane of Staten Island, N.Y. A third son, Jack, is deceased.

She also has 10 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and just recently celebrated the birth of her first great-great-grandchild.

One thing is for sure; they've got a treasure chest of stories from the family matriarch, guaranteed to educate and entertain them for many years to come.

''I learned to do everything,'' Mrs. Fuller took great pride in saying.

At an early age, she even found herself charged with driving a milk truck.

She recalled one time while making her rounds, ''the brakes gave out and I was just shaking.''

Somehow she kept her wits about her and she announced, ''I still got the milk to where it was supposed to go and on time.''

Mrs. Fuller met her husband Charles at 17 and was married at 19.

They had been married 72 years when he died in 2000.

He worked a variety of jobs, including farmer, meat cutter and self-taught musician.

She was a seamstress, doing everything by hand.

The couple also worked together for many years caring for people with mental disabilities.

''When she was in the independent-living apartment, she was beating the pants off of everyone in poker. She's unbeatable!'' boasted daughter-in-law A.J. Fuller.

These days, Mrs. Fuller resides in an apartment in Marlboro Township. She shares cooking on the weekends with another friend.

She formerly pursued oil painting and crocheting. ''I've made so many afghans, I've lost track of the number,'' she said.

When she's not out walking or watching television's Wheel of Fortune or Lawrence Welk Show reruns, Mrs. Fuller enjoys the company of Chester, her Bijon Fraise dog.

Except for a daily blood pressure pill, she's in incredibly good health.

Mrs. Fuller will be honored at a birthday bash at the Tangier restaurant in Akron with local musician Larry Altop performing.

Mrs. Gulley

Elvina (Marshall) Gulley isn't nearly as excited about turning 100 as she is about the prospects of having an African-American president.

Her eyes light up and her voice moves into a higher octave as talk turns to Sen. Barack Obama and his amazing journey — Something Mrs. Gulley, who is also African-American, said she never thought she would see in her lifetime.

''He has my vote!'' she wanted me to know.

Mrs. Gulley is conversant on a wide range of subjects, including cooking and canning.

Nattily dressed in a light blue suit, Mrs. Gulley is in remarkably good health given her advanced years.

She was born March 18, 1908, to Simon Marshall and Narcissus Patterson Marshall in Repton, Ala., the fourth of 14 children, with 12 growing to maturity.

She and her husband, Willie E. Gulley, moved to Springfield Township in 1953. They were married for 49 years before his death in 1974.

The Gulleys also had 14 children, with 12 growing to maturity.

Mrs. Gulley's children are Robert of Mobile, Ala.; Judge of Akron; Willie Pearl Davidson of Pensacola, Fla.; Amanda Mims of Akron; Clara Tolbert of Pensacola; Ben and James, both of Akron; Cornelia Isabell and Delores Gulley Drone, both of Akron; and Walter, David, William, John Lee and Eloise, all deceased.

No stranger to hard work, Mrs. Gulley farmed in her native Alabama.

She also was a bit of an entrepreneur, ''growing vegetables and selling them to 'mobile' grocers or rolling stores, as they were called, in exchange for the items she needed to take care of her children and her household,'' said daughter Delores Gulley Drone.

''The lights rarely went out in our house at night, as she created and made clothing for the boys and girls in her family.''

Mrs. Gulley also was a prolific quilter. ''I used to make mattresses for the beds, too,'' she said of the leftover cotton she used to pick.

''She taught her children well with the meager academics she possessed,'' Gulley Drone said. ''She would help them with their homework and emphasized education and school attendance.

''She also taught them all — boys and girls — how to be good cooks and housekeepers. . . . She never failed to remember that her children needed to honor God in all their efforts. So, she made sure they attended Sunday school and church regularly.''

Mrs. Gulley also has 56 grandchildren, 89 great-grandchildren, 72 great-greatgranchildren and 73 nieces and nephews.

Asked for her recipe for a long and happy life, she had a simple answer. ''Hard work. I don't think it hurt me a bit,'' she said.

Genes may have been a factor, too, as she had a sister who lived to be 105 and an aunt lived to be 107.

The best thing anyone ever said about her? ''That they never known no one who worked as hard as me and that I'm a good person,'' she was happy to reply.

Mrs. Gulley will be feted today with a party at the Cathedral Buffet in Cuyahoga Falls.

Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Supercentenarian Man Celebrates

Originally published April 23, 2008

111-year-old Breuning world's 28th oldest person, group says

Tribune Projects Editor

At age 111, Great Falls' Walter Breuning is officially a supercentenarian and ranked the 28th oldest person in the world, according to the Gerontology Research Group.

He's also the second oldest living American male, following George Francis of California, who is 107 days older. Both were born in 1896, Francis on June 6 and Breuning on Sept. 21.

"If you keep your mind busy and if you keep your body busy, I guess you're just going to keep going," Breuning said philosophically as he waited for lunch Tuesday in the Rainbow Retirement Community.
According to the Inglewood, Calif.-based Gerontology Research Group, which verifies reports of extreme ages, only 75 living people — 64 women and 11 men — qualify as supercentenarians, or people living to be 110 or more.

"Look around this place," said Breuning, gesturing around the restaurant. "It's mostly women. All the men are gone."

The world's oldest person is American Edna Parker of Indiana, who was born on April 20, 1893, and turned 115 on Sunday with a birthday celebration at which 115 helium-filled balloons were released into the sky.

Dressed in a blue and white polka dot dress with a pearl necklace, she clutched a red rose during the ceremony.

"We don't know why she's lived so long," said her 59-year-old grandson Don Parker. "But she's never been a worrier and she's always been a thin person, so maybe that has something to do with it."

Her two sisters also lived to advanced ages: Georgia died at 99, while Opal lived to 88.

"Longevity is the family history," said Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's Institute for Aging Research in New York, noting that good genes and a healthy lifestyle are keys to longevity.

That doesn't seem true of Breuning, whose mother died at age 46 and whose father died at 50. "My mom had an operation that didn't work out, and my dad basically drank himself to death. My brothers and sisters — two brothers and two sisters — all passed away at about 75," he said.

Another positive characteristic might be a strong work ethic. "I had to leave school and go to work when I was 14," Breuning said. "I was making $2.50 a week scraping out trays in a bakery back about 1910."

Dr. Tom Perls, an aging specialist from the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, said people who don't worry appear to live longer than others. His studies on about 1,500 centenarians show "they tend to manage their stress better than the rest of us," Perls said.

And that's a characteristic of Breuning, who was dressed Tuesday in his trademark pinstriped blue suit and neatly knotted tie. "My goodness," he beamed. "I couldn't feel any better!"

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

America's oldest residents

According to the Gerontology Research Group, which verifies reports of extreme ages, about half of the world's 30 oldest people live in the United States. Here's a list of the oldest Americans, their rankings in the world, and their birth dates. For more information, check out the group's Web site of supercentenarians at

1. Edna Parker, Indiana April 20, 1893 (115)

3. Gertrude Baines, California April 6, 1894 (114)

5. Catherine Hagel, Minnesota Nov. 28, 1894 (113)

6. Beatrice Farve, Georgia, April 30, 1895 (112)

8. Mary J. Ray, New Hampshire May 17, 1895 (112)

10. Olivia P. Thomas, New York June 29, 1895 (112)

11. Neva Morris, Iowa Aug. 3, 1895 (112)

14. Maggie Renfro, Louisiana Nov. 14, 1895 (112)

19. Daisey Baily, Michigan March 30, 1896 (112)

21. C. Letitia Lawson, Iowa April 10, 1896 (112)

23. George Francis, California June 6, 1896 (111)

24. Eunice Sanborn, Texas July 20, 1896 (111)

25. Florence Busch, Wisconsin Aug. 13, 1896 (111)

26. Besse Cooper, Georgia Aug. 26, 1896 (111)

27. Berta Rosenberg, New York Sept. 5, 1896 (111)

28. Walter Breuning, Montana Sept. 21, 1896 (111)

* * *

Here is some inspiration that proves genetics aren't everything. Keep busy with work, with physical activity, with mentally engaging activities (socializing counts), and you'll hardly have time to stress when life puts up a fight.

Anecdotally, the best thing I have done to manage stress is get more B-vitamins in my diet through supplements and properly prepared corn, which must be soaked in lime hydrate to make the vitamins bioavailable (and perhaps reduce the harmful lectin content present in most grains).

Monday, April 28, 2008

NY Times Piece on Blue Zones

How to Live Longer Without Really Trying

Published: April 24, 2008

MY neighbor Bruce has the healthiest lifestyle on the block. He eats small portions and skips dessert. He walks to work. His hobbies — coaching Little League, riding his bike and taking his dog on hikes — all involve getting wholesome, fresh air.

This behavior drives my husband, who has the least healthy lifestyle on the block, crazy. “You’re going to be so lonely living forever,” he yells at Bruce from our balcony, where we drink beer. “All the interesting people will be dead.”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” I chime in to show support for my husband (and Anchor Steam).

But secretly I’m on Bruce’s side. I wouldn’t mind living forever. Or at least long enough to blow out the candles on my 100th birthday cake.

Maybe I can. According to a new book that looks at the daily routines of clusters of centenarians who live in four geographically remote or culturally isolated “blue zones” of longevity — from Okinawa to a community of Seventh Day Adventists in Southern California — all I need to do to extend my life is follow a few of their simple secrets.

Eat less. Make family a priority. Banish stress. I figured it should be no problem to follow most of the common-sense tips that Dan Buettner outlines in “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest” (National Geographic, 2008).

Of course, I was not going to be able to work a nightly glass of mugwort sake into my diet as easily as an Okinawan. Or spend the whole day hiking uphill like a Sardinian shepherd.

But maybe I could take advantage of the culturally isolated and geographically remote environment in which I live — my basement, in front of a computer — to create my own blue zone. I hoped, in fact, to find a way to obey the Power 9 — what Mr. Buettner nicknamed the rules of longevity — without ever getting up from my desk.

The first step was a cinch. Mr. Buettner recommends getting started by visiting to take a test called the Vitality Compass. Answer 35 questions, and voilĂ , it calculates your life expectancy.

I felt healthier already. Two minutes later, I received (sort of) good news.

“You are in the Blue Zone!” the Web site told me, adding that my biological age is 40, which is better than both my real age (46) and my Wii Fit age (49), but not nearly as young as the age I would like to look (23).

But then the results took a dark turn.

My life expectancy: 95.2.

My healthy life expectancy: 83.9.

While 12 years of decline was bad news for me, it would be even more of a blow to my children, who already have been warned that they won’t inherit my jewelry if they put me in a nursing home.

The only way to react to such dark news was to scoff at it, and dismiss the quiz as a publicity stunt to sell books.

Sadly, however, it turned out that the quiz results were based on a complex, 106-page algorithm developed by Dr. Robert Kane, a physician and a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

“What the results tell you are a confirmation and a consolidation of what’s been known, for the most part,” for decades, Dr. Kane said in an interview. “The challenge now is to try to get people to use it to change behavior. Most of us know what we ought to do, but have a hard time doing it.”

Like me. If I followed all the personalized advice in the quiz’s final report, I could get as much as an extra 2.3 years — if I didn’t get struck by lightning or some unforeseen fatal disease. But even knowing that incentive, I suffered an immediate setback. Two suggestions — get more rigorous exercise and eat less — made me hungry.

A few Mint Milano cookies later, I returned to my desk determined to improve. I e-mailed my tennis doubles partner, Stacey (who is also studying to become a certified personal trainer), to volunteer to let her train me twice during the next week.

She wrote back, with suggested training sessions and gossip about the latest team scandals, which sidetracked me until my fingers had gotten such a rigorous typing “workout” that I was ready to move on to the next suggestion: avoid salt.

To accomplish this, I sat at my desk awhile, eating nothing, until I figured enough time had passed to allow me to check off the no-salt suggestion.

Next: eat more fruit.

A Google search for salty fruit yielded 456,000 results. I settled quickly on something delicious called Sweet-n-Salty Fruit-n-Nut Honey Lace Brittle. Was that so hard?

After printing out the recipe, I moved on to the next suggestion: drink red wine.

Here — while people who know me might find this hard to believe — I hit a roadblock. While it’s possible, sometimes even essential, to drink wine in front of my computer, I couldn’t imagine myself drinking red.

Seeking clarification, I phoned Mr. Buettner. “Do you really think some book is going to get me to give up white wine?” I asked.

“No, no, you don’t have to,” he said in a reassuring tone meant to lower my stress level (another suggestion from my final report). “When it comes to drinking any spirits, a woman should have a drink a day and maybe two, unless pregnant.”

“Any spirits?” I pressed.

“You get this extra little antioxidant bump” from the polyphenols in red wine, he explained. “But white wine is fine too. I know drinking alcohol helps because I looked at epidemiology studies of huge populations and saw that those who drink a little outlive those who don’t.”

No doubt because nothing reduces stress like a full glass of chardonnay. And I needed relaxation more than ever because Mr. Buettner had become part of the problem. “I’m feeling considerable stress,” I told him, “because, according to your quiz, I am not going to live to be 100.”

“You have to have won the genetic lottery to live that long,” he said. “Like, did your grandparents and all their siblings live to be 100?”

I considered. Perhaps all four grandparents combined reached that age. My only option was to tackle another of the Power 9.

“I am thinking of trying to be more likable, as page 259 of your book suggests,” I said. “But how does that help?”

“If you’re likable, you’re likely to have a better social network, and even get better health care at the doctor’s office because the people who take your blood pressure will do a better job,” he said.

Pray tell, how to become more likable? “Be interested, not just interesting,” he said. “Likable people tend to ask you a question about yourself instead of just talking about themselves.”

Taking his advice, I changed my Facebook status to say, “Michelle is wondering what YOU are thinking.”

This prompted a Facebook friend to write a post: “Funny you should ask. ...”

Encouraged by how youthful my newfound amiability made me feel, I sent a text message to my Twitter entourage that said, “I meant to mention earlier, you look really good today.”

No response. So I texted, “Did you change your hair or what?”

This backfired. One of my Twitter-hating teenagers texted, “Do you realize that everyone can see what you’re typing?”

In desperation, I was ready to take the final bit of Mr. Buettner’s advice (“Maybe you should minimize time spent on the Internet as a way to reduce stress”) and spend some quality offline time “surrounded by those who share your blue-zone values.”

So I made a pan of calorie-laden chicken tetrazzini and went across the street to Bruce’s house with it. There my husband and I found him poring over the score sheet from a Little League game (his team won 20-5, which had to have diminished his stress).

“That looks good,” Bruce said, pointing to the casserole.

“Try some,” I said.

He had seconds. I didn’t.


* * *

Not terribly chock full of any new info on the Blue Zone book, but I included it because her writing is entertaining. I've seen conflicting reports about alcohol--some say it improves average lifespan, but then I've seen reports that most centenarians tend not to be drinkers. This researcher seems to be giving it the go-ahead. I presume the epidemiological evidence he mentioned was more than just average lifespan, and analyzed centenarian patterns separately as well.

Oh, did I not tell you last time that Blue Zones has a website? Yah, because it does.

I've been there; there's a lot of bunk, because they hired a bunch of bloggers to post new material constantly based on their personal opinions and not Buettner's research. Whatever you gotta do to market your book, I guess.

Centenarian Blue Zones


Centenarians: Living, learning

By RANDY A. SALAS, Star Tribune

Last update: March 31, 2008 - 5:53 PM

By Gianluca Colla

Dan Buettner with 100-year-old Felipe Gudoy, in Costa Rica's Nicoya penninsula.

Aging only has an accelerator pedal, Dan Buettner says -- there is no brake. So the key to living longer is simple: Don't step on the gas.

But how do you do that? For a clue, the Minneapolis author and explorer traveled the world to find so-called Blue Zones, places where the people live much longer and in greater number than is the norm. He and a team of researchers then studied those people to find common links that might translate into a longer life for anyone.

The result is Buettner's new book, "The Blue Zone: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest" (National Geographic, $26).

In three years of research, Buettner found four Blue Zones, places where people have up to a three times better chance of living to 100 than we do: Okinawa in Japan, a mountainous region in Sardinia in Italy, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, Calif. He joined with the National Institute on Aging to come up with a methodology to understand each region's culture of longevity and then backed it up with epidemiology studies.

"It's not just Dan Buettner's observations," he said.

Dr. Greg Plotnikoff, director of the Institute for Health and Healing at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, joined Buettner in Okinawa to vet the author's field work there. He praised Buettner's big-picture approach to studying the centenarians.

"It's not just 'What did you have for breakfast Mrs. Jones?' It's the whole context," Plotnikoff said. "This is why I'm such a big supporter of Dan's work. He's starting from a different perspective."

The gist of Buettner's findings, which he will discuss Wednesday during a sold-out book-launch presentation at Minneapolis Central Library and Friday at the SweatShop Health Club in St. Paul, should be good news to most people.

"Typically, when Americans think, 'I want to live longer or stay younger,' they jump to supplements or to diets or to exercise programs," Buettner said. "But the biggest 'Aha!' for us was that the things that truly give you extra quality years and make you look and feel younger now are easy and don't cost anything."

Dr. Steven Miles, a geriatrician and a professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota, said he generally agrees with the tips derived from Buettner's findings.

"On the other hand, you really don't need to go and look at exotic subcultures to derive these rules," Miles said. "They can be derived relatively easily right here at home."

Buettner condensed the lessons in "The Blue Zone" to five tips:

1. Be naturally active.

That means gardening, walking with friends, playing with the kids and other everyday activities.

"The type of physical activity you enjoy is probably much better for you in the long run than anything else you can do, such as running marathons or triathlons or pumping iron," Buettner said.

Also consider changes that force spontaneous exercise, such as getting rid of the TV remote control so you have to get up whenever you want to change the channel or using a shovel instead of a snowblower.

2. Hang out with the right people.

If you spend your time with people who eat fast food and don't exercise, you're likely to pick up the same habits.

"This has a huge, profound impact on your lifestyle," Buettner said. He cited the extensive Framingham Heart Study, which found that obesity can be "socially contagious."

3. Reduce calories.

Before each meal, elders in Okinawa recite an adage to remind themselves to stop eating before they're full. You can do that more easily by replacing your 12-inch dinner plates with smaller ones.

"Every single meal, you'll cut 20 to 30 percent of the calories," Buettner explained, "because a big cue for telling us whether or not we're full is, is our plate empty?"

He added that University of Minnesota research suggests that people who eat a big breakfast tend to eat fewer calories throughout the day than people who skimp on their morning meal.

4. Restrict meat intake.

The easiest way to do this, Buettner said, is to stop buying meat at the grocery store. That will cut meat from your daily life but still allow you to eat it on special occasions or when you dine with your family and friends.

"The longest-lived people in the world eat meat less than four times a month," he said. "I think not eating meat adds an easy half a dozen years to your life."

5. Have a sense of purpose.

Two ways to do so are reconnecting with your religion and volunteering.

"As your job wanes down and your kids grow up, that's when it's hugely important to have a sense of purpose," Buettner said.

He's working on a new project about happiness and said he has found that 80 percent of the things that optimize your lifestyle also make you happier.

"By just putting a little more energy in the right areas of our life, it will have a huge payoff," he said.

"The power is in the repetitiveness, in doing it for a long time and making it your lifestyle. The key is to change your environment -- your social environment, your work environment -- because that will last. A diet won't. An exercise program won't."

Here's to a long life.

Randy A. Salas • 612-673-4542

* * *

If the link is still active, I highly recommend following it for the captioned photo gallery; among the pictures are a 99-year old man waterskiing (his secret, it says, is his physical activity, eating small portions of good food, and that his weight is the same as it was when he enlisted in the service for WWII) and a centenarian woman who starts every morning by walking a mile through the halls of her building, then goes to the gym to cycle for 6-8 miles, and finishes off with weight training. If those pictures don't inspire you, you're doomed!

The Okinawan adage they recite before eating is a concept known as "harahachibu," or eating only until one feels 80% full. My mother always struggles to remember that one ("hairy hotsy boo-boo?").

Friday, April 25, 2008

100 Year Old Woman, Newly Minted Hunter, Is Local Best

Woman, 100, is top hunter

A 100-year-old Russian woman who took up hunting because she was bored has been declared the best hunter in her area.

And the only other person able to keep up with Maria Pokacheva, 100, is another granny aged 90.

Pokacheva has shot 65 squirrels, rabbits and other furry mammals, and her pal Anna Vandymovu, 90, has managed 58.

Both women are being hailed by local politicians from their hometown Kogalym where hunting prowess is highly regarded as an example to the young.

"They are true free spirits and we are very happy to count them as among our own," a spokesman for the mayor Sergei Kakotkin says.

The women have been invited to a special ceremony by local MPs where they will be awarded for their hunting achievements.

Free spirits indeed! Boredom will kill you. Roll with the punches by keeping yourself entertained and maintaining a sense of self-efficacy, which promotes further independence.

Centenarian Ex-Dancer Still Works Out

Centenarian Still Dances to the Joyous Sounds of Life

by David Ryan Alexander

She was once a dancer for Lawrence Welk, lived through both World Wars and the Great Depression, and has outlived several of her own grandchildren. On Nov. 4, Richmond District resident Alby Hunt will celebrate her 100th birthday.

Her advice for living so happily for so long and maintaining energy and clarity of mind: "Always keep moving. Don't sit still, and don't let anybody always take you by the hand. You have to do it for yourself."

With that she leaned back in her rocking chair for an extra boost and launched herself onto her feet. Once landing, she proclaimed, "I'm almost 100 and I don't have any cane or any walker," and then proceeded with her signature jig dance, swiveling her hips and her arms with a broad smile across her face.

From her youth Hunt has always been a dancer. She recalls her days in Chicago when she danced for Lawrence Welk and the Navy dances she attended with her girlfriends where she met her husband.

"I'm so happy I'm still on my own two feet. I was always a dancer," she said.

In fact, one of the first items she requested when she came to St. Anne's Home for the elderly at the age of 90 was a workout video. She quickly encouraged many of the other residents to participate. They still work out to it five times a week.

Hunt still makes the effort to maintain her appearances, and is sometimes mistaken to be only 75 years old by people that do not know her. She wears large glasses that display her bold eyes, that are both alive and aware, and her mouth is always as eager to smile as her still-agile legs are to dance. Although she is small in size, the bounces she makes with each step defy both her age and her height.

A typical day for Hunt includes regular meals and socializing, but it also consists of regular exercise.

Right after breakfast and lunch she makes her way to the exercise room and workouts on her favorite machine.
When she is finished some of the other residents often offer their assistance getting her off the bicycle, but she brushes them away and sprightly climbs off on her own. After a 10-minute rest on the nearby sofa, she continues on with her day.

In addition to the constant activity that Hunt has always filled her life with, she also finds the secret to long life in her love for raisins.

"I've eaten raisins everyday of my life for years," she said.

Besides raisins, she still eats most of whatever she wants, including her favorite food, cake, without the frosting.

Having been the oldest of eight children, Hunt remembers how much her mother relied on her to help out with all of her young siblings.

From a very early age she had to take on a great deal of responsibility and was constantly running about trying to take care of everything. In particular, she was always in charge of hanging up the laundry for their family of 10.

All of the children were raised in Chicago, so during the winter she would have to climb into the attic to hang up all of the clothes to dry. She attributes this chore to the beginning of a life of constant activity.

Hunt and her husband raised two daughters, who are both still alive and living in California.

About eight years ago, while on an outing with residents of St. Anne's, Hunt's heart unexpectedly faltered and she was rushed to the hospital, where she was given a pacemaker.

When she came back to St. Anne's after her release from the hospital, the first thing she recalled saying was, "Now I'm going to live forever."

* * *

So we see she has a great sense of humor and is constantly active--with formal exercise, dance, and keeping busy with chores. She embodies what she advises with her "earnest personality" (as described by a researcher from another article) that spurs her to up and do what she knows she needs, e.g., immediately getting an exercise video at the nursing home. She didn't wait for anybody for take care of her own needs; you ultimately are responsible for you.

Raisins have lots of important nutrients that may contribute to the health benefits observed in red wine, though red wine, when fermented properly (most manufacturers usually cut corners), loses all the sugar content while further enhancing the nutritious phytochemical properties. One added benefit of raisins themselves though is that they can be high in salicylates. If you'll recall, aspirin, widely touted for its health benefits, is a salicylate. Women tend to be resistant to aspirin's benefits while still suffering side effects like intestinal damage, so dried fruits high in salicylates may be a better bet.

There are some factors helping Alby Hunt that we can't control, such as her small body size, her sex, and being a first born child. But her lifestyle should inspire us all to increase quality and quantity of life by vigilantly exercising. If she's 100 and makes herself go workout after every breakfast and lunch, why can't you kids who are a quarter of her age?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oldest Recognized Person In World Is 115 Year Old American Woman
Posted Saturday, April 19, 2008

Genes of people 110 and older may hold clues to longevity
The Associated Press

Edna Parker, born April 20, 1893, at her 115-birthday party in Shelbyville, Ind., on Friday. She is the oldest known person.

SHELBYVILLE, Ind. -- Maybe it was a lifetime of chores on the family farm that accounts for Edna Parker's long life. Or maybe just good genes explain why the world's oldest known person will turn 115 on Sunday, defying staggering odds.

Scientists who study longevity hope supercentenarians -- Parker and others who live to 110 or beyond -- can help uncover the mystery of extreme longevity.

"We don't know why she's lived so long," said Don Parker, her 59-year-old grandson. "But she's never been a worrier, and she's always been a thin person, so maybe that has something to do with it."

On Friday, Parker laughed and smiled as relatives and guests released 115 balloons into sunny skies outside her nursing home. Dressed in pearls, a blue and white polka dot dress and new white shoes, she clutched a red rose during the festivities.

Two years ago, researchers from the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University took a blood sample from Parker for the group's DNA database of supercentenarians.

Her DNA is now preserved with DNA samples of about 100 other people who made the 110-year milestone and whose genes are being analyzed, said Dr. Tom Perls, an aging specialist who directs the project.

"They're really our best bet for finding the elusive Holy Grail of our field, which are these longevity-enabling genes," he said.

Sixty-four women and 11 men are 110 or older, according to the Gerontology Research Group, based in Inglewood, Calif., which verifies reports of extreme ages.

Parker, who was born April 20, 1893, was recognized by Guinness World Records in August as the oldest of that group after the death of a Japanese woman four months her senior.

A widow since her husband, Earl, died in 1938 of a heart attack, Parker lived alone in their farmhouse until age 100, when she moved into her son Clifford's home. She cheated death a few months later.

One winter's night, Clifford and his wife returned home from a high school basketball game to find her missing. Don, their son, says he discovered his grandmother in the snowy darkness near the farm's apple orchard. He scooped up her rigid body and rushed back to the house.

"She was stiff as a two-by-four. We really thought that was the end of her," he said.

But Parker recovered fully, suffering only frostbitten fingertips.

Fifteen years later, her room at the Heritage House Convalescent Center in Shelbyville, Ind., about 25 miles southeast of Indianapolis, is adorned with teddy bears and photos of her five grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great grandchildren. She's outlived her two sons, Clifford and Earl Jr.

Her sisters, Georgia and Opal, lived to 99 and 88, respectively.


So longevity seems to run in her family to some extent, but more factors must explain why she's the oldest person in the world while her sisters "only" made it to their 80s and 90s.

I think it's interesting that she's resilient enough to have "cheated death" by surviving a stint of freezing in the snow. Besides her will to survive, an attitude which is widely pointed to as having beneficial effects on actual survival, it's recognized that brief environmental stressors on the body can upregulate genes that promote an efficient survival mode. Exposure to cold has been mentioned as one of these mechanisms (as are caloric restriction and intermittent fasting).

I'm not suggesting that her longevity is mostly or even significantly explained by her battle with exposure, but it did remind me of research which showed a lower body temperature correlates with longer life, probably as a marker of a slower metabolism. It could be triggered by any number of factors, including a survival mechanism, I'm sure. I've also seen research proving that brief exposure to cold stimulates the immune system, which is why I take cold showers! I wonder if her body was already in survival mode, which is why she survived exposure in the first place, or if the experience further upregulated ancient feast-or-famine type genes. Or perhaps it boosted her immunity to pathogens like that which causes pneumonia, which commonly claims the elderly by preying on their weakened immunity. I'd be interested in seeing what lead to her sisters' mortality to see if it was lifestyle/weight, something influenced by not having an even-keeled attitude, or a failure of immunity.

Moving on. Her story is a microcosm of many other factors we hear about time and again; we see the importance of personal independence after her husband died in the 1930s (!), and her ability to rely on people as a support system, like when she moved in with her family as her independence deteriorated. You don't have to pop out kids or have a great family, however; research shows any type of social support is an equal or MORE effect substitute than relying on kin.

Her trump card is her attitude, however. She outlived both her children and still didn't let depression and sadness rock her too hard.

Me? I would have been watching a flock of red birthday balloons escape to the sky and had anxiety about pollution and the dolphins that choke on the rubber when it inevitably ends up in the sea. Then I think about the mass extinction of incredible species all due to these homo sapien parasites, progressively worsening my anxiety and attitude, and then I realize I'll probably never be a centenarian.

Edited to add:

I have no idea why that source cuts out the last section of the original article, but it goes on to consult specialist on aging research, who opines that most centenarians have both genes and lifestyle in their favor, and that one of the biggest key commonalities among all of them is that they handle stress well. They don't dwell on stressful events of the past, which can prevent all kinds of health problems: stroke, heart attacks, etc.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Genes Help with Exceptional Longevity, But Aren't Main Factor

Original source:

The New Age
Live Long? Die Young? Answer Isn’t Just in Genes

Courtesy of Josephine Tesauro
Josephine Tesauro, left, active and healthy at 92, is part of a study trying to determine why some people age better than others, even when they are closely related.

Published: August 31, 2006

Josephine Tesauro never thought she would live so long. At 92, she is straight backed, firm jawed and vibrantly healthy, living alone in an immaculate brick ranch house high on a hill near McKeesport, a Pittsburgh suburb. She works part time in a hospital gift shop and drives her 1995 white Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera to meetings of her four bridge groups, to church and to the grocery store. She has outlived her husband, who died nine years ago, when he was 84. She has outlived her friends, and she has outlived three of her six brothers.

Mrs. Tesauro does, however, have a living sister, an identical twin. But she and her twin are not so identical anymore. Her sister is incontinent, she has had a hip replacement, and she has a degenerative disorder that destroyed most of her vision. She also has dementia. “She just does not comprehend,” Mrs. Tesauro says.

Even researchers who study aging are fascinated by such stories. How could it be that two people with the same genes, growing up in the same family, living all their lives in the same place, could age so differently?

The scientific view of what determines a life span or how a person ages has swung back and forth. First, a couple of decades ago, the emphasis was on environment, eating right, exercising, getting good medical care. Then the view switched to genes, the idea that you either inherit the right combination of genes that will let you eat fatty steaks and smoke cigars and live to be 100 or you do not. And the notion has stuck, so that these days, many people point to an ancestor or two who lived a long life and assume they have a genetic gift for longevity.

But recent studies find that genes may not be so important in determining how long someone will live and whether a person will get some diseases — except, perhaps, in some exceptionally long-lived families. That means it is generally impossible to predict how long a person will live based on how long the person’s relatives lived.

Life spans, says James W. Vaupel, who directs the Laboratory of Survival and Longevity at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, are nothing like a trait like height, which is strongly inherited.

“How tall your parents are compared to the average height explains 80 to 90 percent of how tall you are compared to the average person,” Dr. Vaupel said. But “only 3 percent of how long you live compared to the average person can be explained by how long your parents lived.”

“You really learn very little about your own life span from your parents’ life spans,” Dr. Vaupel said. “That’s what the evidence shows. Even twins, identical twins, die at different times.” On average, he said, more than 10 years apart.

The likely reason is that life span is determined by such a complex mix of events that there is no accurate predicting for individuals. The factors include genetic predispositions, disease, nutrition, a woman’s health during pregnancy, subtle injuries and accidents and simply chance events, like a randomly occurring mutation in a gene of a cell that ultimately leads to cancer.

The result is that old people can appear to be struck down for many reasons, or for what looks like almost no reason at all, just chance. Some may be more vulnerable than others, and over all, it is clear that the most fragile are likely to die first. But there are still those among the fragile who somehow live on and on. And there are seemingly healthy people who die suddenly.

Some diseases, like early onset Alzheimer’s and early onset heart disease, are more linked to family histories than others, like most cancers and Parkinson’s disease. But predisposition is not a guarantee that an individual will develop the disease. Most, in fact, do not get the disease they are predisposed to. And even getting the disease does not mean a person will die of it.

There are, of course, some valid generalizations. On average, for example, obese men who smoke will die sooner than women who are thin and active and never get near a cigarette. But for individuals, there is no telling who will get what when or who will succumb quickly and who will linger.

“We are pretty good at predicting on a group level,” said Dr. Kaare Christensen, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Southern Denmark. “But we are really bad on the individual level.”

Looking to Twins

James Lyons used to think his life would be short. Mr. Lyons, a retired executive with the Boy Scouts of America, thought of his father, who died at 55. “He had one heart attack. It was six hours from onset to death, and that was it.”

Then there were his first cousins on his father’s side. One died at 57 and another at 50. “He was in a barber chair and had a heart attack,” Mr. Lyons said of the 50-year-old. “He died on the spot.”

“He was a big strapping guy, 6-4, healthy and energetic. Then, boom. One day he was there, and the next day he was gone.”

“I approached my 50’s with trepidation,” said Mr. Lyons, who lives in Lansing, Mich.

But his 50’s came and went, and now he is 75. He is still healthy, and he has lived longer than most of his ancestors. He is baffled as to why.

Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

Jim Lyons, age 75 from Lake Odessa, MI., has many relatives who died at early ages, and never expected to live beyond his 50's.

It seems like common sense. Family members tend to look alike. And many characteristics are strongly inherited — height, weight, a tendency to develop early onset heart disease or to get diabetes. Even personalities run in families. Life span would seem to fit with the rest.

But scientists have been trying for decades to find out if there really is a strong genetic link to life spans and, if so, to what extent.

They turned to studies of families and of parents and children, but data analysis has been difficult and any definitive answer elusive. If a family’s members tend to live to ripe old ages, is that because they share some genes or because they share an environment?

“Is it good socioeconomic status, good health or good genes?” Dr. Christensen asked. “How can you disentangle it?”

His solution, a classic one in science, was to study twins. The idea was to compare identical twins, who share all their genes, with fraternal twins, who share some of them. To do this, Dr. Christensen and his colleagues took advantage of detailed registries that included all the twins in Denmark, Finland and Switzerland born from 1870 to 1910. That study followed the twins until 2004 to 2005, when nearly all had died.

Now, Dr. Christensen and his colleagues have analyzed the data. They restricted themselves to twins of the same sex, which obviated the problem that women tend to live longer than men. That left them with 10,251 pairs of same-sex twins, identical or fraternal. And that was enough for meaningful analyses even at the highest ages. “We were able to disentangle the genetic component,” Dr. Christensen said.

But the genetic influence was much smaller than most people, even most scientists, had assumed. The researchers reported their findings in a recent paper published in Human Genetics. Identical twins were slightly closer in age when they died than were fraternal twins.

But, Dr. Christensen said, even with identical twins, “the vast majority die years apart.”

The investigators also asked when the genetic factor kicked in. One hypothesis, favored by Dr. Christensen, was that the strongest genetic effect was on deaths early in life. He thought that deaths at young ages would reflect things like inherited predispositions to premature heart disease or to fatal cancers.

But there was almost no genetic influence on age of death before 60, suggesting that early death has a large random component — an auto accident, a fall. In fact, the studies of twins found almost no genetic influence on age of death even at older ages, except among people who live to be very old, the late 80’s, the 90’s or even 100. The average age at which people are dying today in the United States is 68.5 for men, and 76.1 for women, according to Arialdi M. Minio of the National Center for Health Statistics. This statistic differs from life expectancy, which estimates how long people born today are expected to live.

Finding Randomness

Even though there may be a tendency in some rare families to live extraordinarily long, the genetic influence that emerged from the studies of twins was significantly less than much of the public and many scientists think it is.

A woman whose sister lived to be 100 has a 4 percent chance of living that long, Dr. Christensen says. That is better than the 1 percent chance for women in general, but still not very great because the absolute numbers, 1 out of 100 or 4 out of 100, are still so small. For men, the odds are much lower. A man whose sister lived to be 100 has just a 0.4 percent chance of living that long. In comparison, men in general have a 0.1 percent chance of reaching 100.

Those data fit well with animal studies, says Caleb Finch, a researcher on aging at the University of Southern California. Genetically identical animals — from worms to flies to mice — living in the same environments die at different times.

The reason is not known, Dr. Finch said.

“It’s random,” he said. “Since we can’t find any regular pattern, that’s the hand wave explanation — randomness.”

And random can mean more than one thing.

“There are two phases of randomness,” Dr. Finch said. “There’s the randomness of life experiences. The unlucky ones, who get an infection, get hit on the head or get mutations that turn a cell into cancer. And there are random events in development.”

Random cell growth and division and random differences in which genes get turned on and how active they are during development can cause identical twins to have different numbers of cells in their kidneys and even different patterns of folds in their brains, Dr. Finch pointed out. And random differences in development early in life can set the stage for deterioration decades later.

But seemingly random events can still come as a shock. That’s how Annmarie Bald felt when her identical twin, Catherine Polk, died in her sleep of a heart attack. It happened seven years ago, when Ms. Polk was 43. To this day, Ms. Bald, of Forked River, N.J., lives in fear that the same thing will happen to her. She nervously sees her doctor every year for a checkup, and every year her doctor tells her the same thing: her heart is fine.

“The question in my mind every day is, ‘How did I end up still here and she’s gone?’ ” Ms. Bald said. “It’s not something you ever get over.”

Yet even diseases commonly thought to be strongly inherited, like many cancers, are not, researchers found. In a paper in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2000, Dr. Paul Lichtenstein of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and his colleagues analyzed cancer rates in 44,788 pairs of Nordic twins. They found that only a few cancers — breast, prostate and colorectal — had a noticeable genetic component. And it was not much. If one identical twin got one of those cancers, the chance that the other twin would get it was generally less than 15 percent, about five times the risk for the average person but not a very big risk over all.

Looked at one way, the data say that genes can determine cancer risk. But viewed another way, the data say that the risk for an identical twin of a cancer patient is not even close to 100 percent, as it would be if genes completely determined who would get the disease.

Dr. Robert Hoover of the National Cancer Institute wrote in an accompanying editorial: “There is a low absolute probability that a cancer will develop in a person whose identical twin — a person with an identical genome and many similar exposures — has the same type of cancer. This should also be instructive to some scientists and others interested in individual risk assessment who believe that with enough information, it will be possible to predict accurately who will contract a disease and who will not.”

Alzheimer’s disease also has a genetic component, but genes are far from the only factor in determining who gets the disease, said Margaret Gatz of the University of Southern California and Nancy Pedersen of the Karolinska Institute.

Dr. Gatz and Dr. Pedersen analyzed data from a study of identical and fraternal Swedish twins 65 and older. If one of a pair of identical twins developed Alzheimer’s disease, the other had a 60 percent chance of getting it. If one of a pair of fraternal twins, who are related like other brothers and sisters, got Alzheimer’s, the other had a 30 percent chance of getting it.

But, Dr. Pedersen noted, Alzheimer’s is so common in the elderly that it occurs in 35 percent of people age 80 and older. If genes determine who gets Alzheimer’s at older ages, Dr. Pedersen says, “those genes must be very common, have small effects and probably interact with the environment.”

As for other chronic diseases of the elderly, Parkinson’s has no detectable heritable component, studies repeatedly find. Heart disease appears to be indiscriminate, striking almost everyone eventually, says Dr. Anne Newman of the University of Pittsburgh, who has studied it systematically in a large group of elderly people.

But the general picture is consistent in study after study. A strong family history of even a genetically linked disease does not guarantee a person will get it, and having no family history does not mean a person is protected. Instead, chronic diseases strike almost at random among the elderly, making it perhaps not so surprising that life spans themselves have such a weak genetic link.

Matt McGue, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota who studies twins, contrasts life spans with personality, which, he says, is about 50 percent heritable, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is 70 to 80 percent heritable, or body weight, which is 70 percent heritable.

“I’ve been in this business for a long while, and life span is probably one of the most weakly heritable traits I’ve ever studied,” Dr. McGue said.

Seeking Rare Families

At the National Institute on Aging, the question still hovers: Is it possible to find genetic determinants of exceptional health and longevity?

“If you could identify factors for exceptionally good health, that might allow people to avoid disease,” said Evan Hadley, director of the institute’s geriatrics and clinical gerontology program.

There are two methods to do this, Dr. Hadley said. One is to look at how the genes of centenarians differ from those of the rest of the population. But, he said, that requires that if longevity genes exist, they are common among centenarians. And, so far, such studies have not yielded much that has held up — with one well accepted exception: a gene for a cholesterol-carrying protein that affects risk for heart disease as well as Alzheimer’s disease. Those who have that gene have double the chances of living to 100. But that chance is not much anyway. Only about 2 percent of people born in 1910 could expect to reach 100. The second approach is to look for rare genes in unusually long-lived families. “If there is something in a family, it may be in only one or a few families,” Dr. Hadley said. But it may have a big effect.

So the National Institute on Aging is starting a research project with investigators at three United States medical centers and at Dr. Christensen’s center in Denmark. The plan is to find exceptional families, those in which there is a cluster of very old, closely related members — two sisters in their 90’s, for example — whose children, who would typically be in their 70’s, and grandchildren, can be studied too.

Today, many families have a few members living to advanced ages, but very few families have many of them. And in large families, just by chance, someone may live past 90, but it is unlikely that most of the brothers and sisters will get there. For these families, there does not appear to be a genetic component to life spans.

For now, the study is in a pilot phase, testing a scoring system to define the families who seem to fit the criteria.

“If you are really, really old in a family, that gets you more points,” Dr. Hadley said. “You get more points for being 97 than for being 92. But we also are looking at the whole family structure. If there are just two siblings in a family and both live to 98, that’s very exceptional. But suppose there are eight kids and they all made it to 87. That’s pretty unusual, too.’’

If the researchers find genes in the oldest family members that seem to be associated with protection from a disease like heart disease and with a long life, they will follow the younger members of the family, children in their 60’s and 70’s, asking if the same genes seem to protect them as they age.

Some wonder if the project can succeed, said Dr. Newman, who is directing one study center, at the University of Pittsburgh. “The big debate is, is it possible for there to be a few genes that are protective or is it going to be so complicated that we won’t be able to figure out the genetic factors? Is it going to be that some people are just lucky?”

She is optimistic, reasoning that since some families tend to have early onset of certain diseases, others probably have a genetic predisposition to get diseases like heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s so late that most members do not get them at all and live very long and healthy lives.

“This would be the flip side of early onset,” she says.

Mrs. Tesauro is in the pilot study. She had always been healthy and active, a self-described tomboy growing up who played tennis until she was 85. “I just can’t sit still,” she said.

Jeff Swensen for The New York Times
Josephine Tesauro, 92, maintains a tight schedule and a witty sense of humor.

She was a woman who knew her mind, so eager to go to college that she defied her father, who thought it was a waste of money, and worked her way through. She ended up with a master’s degree in education and a career as a high school teacher.

Her twin was different. She was the frilly type, Mrs. Tesauro said, and was not much of a student. She failed a grade in high school and barely graduated. Both Mrs. Tesauro and her sister married and had children.

Mrs. Tesauro was born first, and it is a common belief even among scientists that the twin born first is stronger and lives longer. But when he looked at the Scandinavian data, Dr. Christensen said, he found that birth order made no difference in health or longevity.

The day before visiting Mrs. Tesauro for the first time, the Pittsburgh investigators tried to call her, just to be sure she was still alive and still healthy enough to be interviewed. When they could not reach her, they began to worry.

But all was well. Mrs. Tesauro answered the phone the next morning and explained why they had had such trouble. She was out running errands.

Bergen County Asian Women Longest Lived Group In U.S.

A September 12, 2006 article in the NY Times first reported on the demographics of longevity according to a Harvard study:

"Many other national studies have shown disparities among races, with Asian-Americans living longest, followed by whites and Hispanics, and blacks having the shortest life spans.

But the Harvard researchers highlighted the figure for Asian-American women in Bergen County, an average life expectancy of 91.1 years — a number that Dr. Murray called extraordinary, even in light of the longer life spans of Asian-Americans and women. It was the highest average the researchers found anywhere in the country for any racial subgroup in a county with a large enough number of deaths to be considered statistically significant."

A follow-up story, originally available at, ran two days later to explore the lives of some members of this long-lived group:

Study Counts the Years, Asians Count the Reasons
Published: September 14, 2006

Marko Georgiev for The New York Times

Free time at the Long Life Adult Day Care Center in Cliffside Park, N.J., where activities include line dancing, karaoke and mah-jongg.

CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J., Sept. 13 — Son Man Soon, 93, spends her afternoons at the Long Life Adult Day Care Center watching a handful of women her age learn line dances, or singing along, karaoke-style, with Korean words on a large television screen. Some of her peers play mah-jongg or pool, some knit, and later, they enjoy meals of soybean sprout soup and kimchi.

“Around here, these people, they don’t die,” Ms. Soon said, laughing. She lives by herself in a nearby apartment, and, aside from occasional trouble with her legs, considers herself healthy.

Around here, in Bergen County, Harvard researchers have found a surprising pocket of longevity. Asian women here live longer than any other ethnic subgroup of people in the nation, according to federal statistics. Their average lifespan is 91.1 years, compared with 77.5 for the general population, 86.7 for Asian women nationally, and about 80 years for Bergen County as a whole, a figure that places it first in the Northeast.

“I believe they got better medications and food, and they’re comfortable,” Ms. Soon said through a translator, referring to the Korean women in their 80’s and 90’s surrounding her. “Their kids are all well educated.”

In dozens of interviews here, at a nursing home in Paramus, a Japanese market in Edgewater and a center for the aged in Fort Lee, elderly women from Korea, China and Hong Kong attributed their longevity to a healthy diet, belief in God, and their close-knit communities in the well-off suburbs that hug the Hudson River and the New York State border. They also said the conveniences of life in these towns, and the proximity to top-notch medical care, helped ease the path to their next birthdays.

For the Korean population, however, the average might be slightly skewed, since some Koreans, at least, count their age from conception and base it on the lunar year, factors that may not have been accounted for in census figures, one of the study’s authors said. Pun Park, for example, was born in 1911 but gave her age as 97.

“I didn’t eat beef or meat, and I usually take my main dish as vegetables,” said Ms. Park, who energetically offered apples and oranges as she recounted a life so full of farming, raising four children and doing household chores that it allowed little time for sickness.

The average life expectancies were calculated by researchers who monitored slices of the population — say, 80- to 85-year-olds — to see how many survived over a period of time. The data provides insight into how long a typical person in a specific place or ethnic group who is born today can be expected to live.

The Harvard researchers found Asian women in other places to have even longer life expectancies, but their numbers were too small to be statistically significant. In Bergen County, according to the 2000 census, there are more than 48,000 Asian women. The study appears in the new issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.

Majid Ezzati, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors, said that Asians as a whole have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver disease. Some of the risk factors for those diseases, such as smoking, binge drinking, obesity and high cholesterol, are less prevalent in the Asian community. But exact causes of longevity remain a mystery.

“It’s always a lot harder to explain why somebody lives long than why they don’t,” Dr. Ezzati said. But the women, most of whom immigrated as adults, some when they were already grandparents, were willing to guess why.

“I think it’s because their minds are comfortable,” said Hwang Song Gi, 78, “because every day they have a schedule, with lunch at the same time, and dinner, and exercise.” She is a regular at the Long Life center and goes to church three times a week, and said the government provides for her generously.

“If I’m sick, the health care is coming over and taking care of me,” she said. “We’ve got better quality health care than in other countries.”

Strong families also play a role, said Betty Lee of Franklin Lakes, who was taking her mother, Ching Lin, 88, to lunch at the food court of the Mitsuwa Marketplace, which sells trays of gelatinous Japanese sweets along with shelves full of vitamins, groceries, and appliances.

“They like to stay with the families,” she said. “With their kids, they could live longer. If they went to a nursing home they would be lonely to death.” Her mother, who is Chinese, has a fixed daily schedule, with tai chi at 5:30 a.m., and three visits from relatives throughout the day.

Hyun W. Lee, 77, of Palisades Park, said Asian women live longer in part because of their faith. “They forgive and trust and try not to do bad things,” said Ms. Lee, who goes to the True Light Presbyterian Church in Teaneck. “And they are thankful to God.”

And there are excellent parks in Bergen County, she pointed out. “Everything here is much better than in other countries,” said Ms. Lee, who has also lived in Korea and Europe and enjoys swimming and dancing several times a week.

Margaret Leung, 72, who is originally from Hong Kong and was painting with watercolors at the Richard A. Nest Senior Center in Fort Lee, said she suspected that Asian women may live longer because they are generally happy.

“I don’t think about my age,” she said, recounting how she still enjoys golfing with her husband, and traveling to her homeland. “I don’t feel old. I try to feel young all the time.”

Yet many of the women said they had no burning desire to make it to the century mark.

At the Korean Long Term Care Service at Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus, where the beds are low to the floor and the artwork on the wall tends toward watercolors and calligraphy, Myung Soon Kim, 93, said, “I’ve lived long enough, oh, my gosh.”

Ms. Kim’s only complaint — the only medical complaint, anyhow — is a little high blood pressure, and she attributes her impressive age to the way she eats a little at a time, “mainly fresh salads and vegetables.”

Back at the Long Life center, Ms. Soon said her children “go to church and pray for me to live a little more time.” But she would rather they not go to the trouble. “It’s about time to go to heaven,” she said.

Korean Centenarians

Originally published at

Regular living habits key to longevity

October 23, 2006

Sleep sufficiently, eat regularly, and eat vegetables, tofu, and ¡°doenjang¡± (bean paste), if you want to live a long life.

A study on Korean centenarians' secret of longevity was released Oct. 18 by Lee Mee-sook, food and nutrition professor at Hannam University, during the International Centenarian Symposium, organized by Sunchang County, North Cholla Province, which has the largest ratio of centenarians in Korea.

Lee conducted a research on eating and living habits of 168 people aged over 90 in Gangwon, Gyeongsang and Cheolla provinces in 2003 and 2004.

¡°South Koreans who are more than 90 years old tend to sleep a lot and eat vegetables frequently,¡± Lee said.

Korean centenarians were found to consume vegetables much more than animal foods with 87 percent of the surveyed people usually eating vegetable-based foods. They had foods made of beans, such as doenjang and tofu, 4.3 times per week, while having animal foods such as meat, egg and fish 3.5 times a week.

¡°Studies on foreign centenarians showed they have a lot of yogurt or seaweed, but Korean centenarians have mainly rice, doenjang soup, vegatables [sic] and ¡°namul,¡± or seasoned wild greens. It is a Korean characteristic to consume beans and namul, which contain antioxidants that prevent aging,¡± she said.

Some 94 percent of the researched elderly had three meals a day, 80.4 percent had their meals with family, and 85.7 percent said they enjoy meal time, showing having meals regularly with family helps people live longer.

They did not have distinctively different living habits from foreign centenarians. About 20 percent of them smoked, and 28 percent drank but in small quantities. The average sleeping time was 9.2 hours.

¡°Korean centenarians did not have big differences from foreign ones in restraining themselves from drinking and smoking and in having regular physical activities such as gardening vegetable patches. But having regular meal portions at regular times was a Korean characteristic,¡± Lee said.

Other experts participating in the symposium also announced their study results.

Yasuyuki Gondo, researcher at Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology, said having an extroversive and earnest personality is the key to longevity based on his survey of 1,812 people aged between 60 and 84, and 70 people aged over 100 in Tokyo.

¡°Those who behave earnestly tended to exercise regularly and restrain themselves from taking part in activities that are bad for health. And extroversive people reduced stress with positive thoughts by blaming others more often than themselves when something bad happens to them,¡± Gondo said.

Michel Poulain, professor at Gedap Universite Catholique de Louvain, also cited stress as the main culprit hindering longevity.

Professor Park Sang-chul at the Seoul National University said villages where residents' average life span is longer than others usually have strong community relations. ¡°People in such villages get along with one another and share their daily interests,¡± he said.

Eat three square meals a day, just like mama said! And make sure they're green!