Sleep and sushi’ were the world’s oldest woman’s secret of longevity. But surely more factors contribute to the increasing number of centenarians, especially in US and Japan?
Sau saal jiyo‘ May you live a 100 years’ is the traditional Indian blessing. Sto lat, sing the Polish. Cent’anni, say Italians. Greeks wish each other na ta ekatostisis, while Swedes sing Må han / hon lever i hundraår…
Who wouldn’t want their loved ones to hit a century, and beyond? The world’s oldest living woman, 117-year-old Japanese Misao Okawa died on April 1, passing on the title to 116-year-old Gertrude Weaver, an American. Misao said on her birthday last month that 117 years didn’t seem such a long time really! Really?! And this is a woman who lived across 3 centuries, four Japanese emperors, six British monarchs and 20 US Presidents!!
Misao’s secret of longevity? Eight hours of sleep a night and eating sushi, she stated. Gertrude Weaver, now the oldest, is passionate about manicures, Bible studying and wheelchair dancing. She shared her longevity secret with Time magazine –“Kindness. Treat people right…”She also credited an unwavering faith in God for her long years. In sharp contrast, Jeralean Talley, 116, now the world’s second oldest living person, leads a fun life! She bowled, played the slot machines in casinos and even mowed her lawn till she was 105! She still goes on fishing trips and caught 7 catfish at 114!
From three hearty meals a day to sparse eating, from being super active to confined to a wheel chair; from playing casino slot machines to following God; eating raw eggs to sushi to bacon – the world’s oldest people have credited many things with contributing to their long innings. Desperately seeking the elixir of life, the rest of us lap up their words as gospel. But is there a strategy that can help you actually live to 100?
Interestingly the 10 oldest people living at present are all women, ranging from the ages of 116-114. Then come two men in the over-110 category at 112 years of age. The 10 oldest people ever to have lived are also ALL women. Of 56 oldest living people since 1955, 50 were women! Studies quote deferred heart conditions as compared to men, better ability to deal with stress, lesser alcohol and tobacco culture, and lesser iron as some reasons for women’s longer lives.
As nationalities go, the US boasts the largest number of the world’s oldest living, followed by Japan. Of the 12 oldest living, six are from the US, while four are Japanese. What could be the possible common denominator between these two nations that helps nurture long years?
Lessons from Nagano in Japan, which is the longest-living place on earth, with maximum centenarians, suggest that a healthy diet, regular physical activity and extended work years help their inhabitants live longer. Just about 35 years ago, Nagano had Japan’s maximum heart stroke rate, which is when the government intervened, aggressively promoting healthy eating and exercise habits along with preventive healthcare. Most Japanese people are encouraged to postpone retirement or begin second careers. People live in a caring community that looks after its old. Low stress lifestyles and spirituality also help one live longer and better. Importantly, the goal is not just to live longer, but to stay healthy as long as possible in those years, points a Japanese doctor!
John W Santrock in his book, ‘Life-Span Development’ identifies five factors important to longevity — Heredity and family history; Health, (weight, diet, smoker/non-smoker, amount of exercise); Education level; Personality, and Lifestyle. The author also notes that the biggest group of centenarians has been of women who never married . People who have been through traumatic events may also live longer as they learn to cope better with stress and poverty.
Countries with better healthcare facilities and a better ratio of doctors and population report longer life expectancy. Japan has the highest life expectancy of 86.2, ranking first for males and second for females (WHO 2012). US at 79.8, ranks 32nd for men and 35th for women. Andorra ranks first in female life expectancy. India with a life expectancy of 60, ranks 64th for men and an embarrassing 150th for women!
When will we live to be 100?
(Gertrude Weaver, barely reigned six days as the world’s oldest living person and died on April 6, 2015. Now the world’s oldest living person is Jeralean Talley, 116, also an American.)