STORY SO FAR: top-rated ways to live to 100

Twenty entries in to our ‘101 ways to live to 100′ and already one or two trends are emerging. Alcohol and religion both turn up in quite a few of our centenarians’ secrets to longevity, as does chocolate. So far, no one has mentioned genetics (though a few have mentioned ‘family’). And our surprise leader is mountaineering.

Our league table below is surely the only time these words have ever appeared in a list together:

9/10: Mountaineering
8/10: A loving family; Be happy and enjoy life;
7/10: A good doctor; praising God
6/10: One meal a day; sleep; hard work
5/10: ChocolateMonogamy; Guinness; Yoga; a lot of booze
4/10: Two raw eggs;
3/10: Work less overtime;
2/10: Bacon
1/10: Water from a wishing well
0/10: Pearls
No score: Good food; stem cells

Back soon with: Does a sense of humour help you live longer?

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NEWS: ‘Key to longer life is three beers and a whisky chaser’

3208521661_587da1bcd9_oNo surprise to see that another centenarian is extolling the virtues of alcohol as a longevity aid. Agnes ‘Aggie’ Fenton hit 110 this week in New Jersey and delighted the press and internet with her longevity ‘secret’: three Miller High Lifes and a shot of Johnnie Walker Blue Label every day.  Agnes even says that it was a doctor who recommended the regime to her.

Alcohol has turned up pretty frequently so far in 101 ways to live to 100. Pauline Spagnola said that her longevity secret was ‘a lot of booze’ and Gladys Fielden swore it was Guinness. Nazar Singh talked about good food, his family – and his nightly shot of whisky.

And we know there may be some truth in moderate alcohol consumption helping people live longer, though three lagers and a whisky every day may be pushing is just a little.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/33549343@N04/3208521661″>Beers and Cheers 011809</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Secret no.20 Chocolate

Blogger Penny Walford recently wrote a touching piece about her great aunt Marie, who had died aged 106. Marie sounds a remarkable woman, who travelled the world in her youth by hitching rides on cargo ships. Penny first met her later in life, when she would follow her favourite ice hockey team, the Ottowa Senators on TV and, when her eyesight failed, on the radio.

Penny describes how Marie was a strong and active woman who swam every day when she was younger and walked every day as she got older. Even at 106 she was still taking a turn around her nursing home. So surely this explains her long life?

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Well not according to Marie. She and Penny had a shared love – chocolate. And it is to this that Marie gave credit for her long life. Penny describes how Marie ate it every day, with half-hidden stashes of it near her bed and usually a couple of bar wrappers in or around the wastepaper bin. (In the interests of accuracy, I should also say that Penny thinks Marie’s love of chatting and storytelling also helped her live longer and we’ll return to this theme in a later post).

So is this possible? Could Cadbury and Hershey be manufacturing the key to a longer life?

Plausibility rating: 5 out of 10. While at first the idea of chocolate as a superfood seems outlandish, it turns out Marie is not the only centenarian to give it credence. Bernard LaPallo is 110 and he too says, chocolate (along with four other ‘superfoods’) is the reason while 105-year-old Edna Sandys also thought it had played a part. And perhaps we were wrong to focus on the two raw eggs that Emma Morano eats (No. 12 of our 101 ways) and should instead have followed the evidence of the chocolate that goes missing in the night.

So what about the science part? Well, there is some reported evidence to support chocolate’s credentials. It is high in polyphenols, which may protect against heart disease (along with lots of other, healthier-sounding, foods like blueberries, cereal bran and green tea). It may also help lower blood pressure and some studies suggest a reduction in heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Certainly the internet is full of articles with titles like ‘the 9 health benefits of chocolate’ and ‘7 reasons why chocolate is healthy’.

However, on closer examination the benefits of chocolate do tend to dissolve, a little like cocoa powder in hot milk. Many of the studies are small and still need confirmation. And they tend to focus on either cocoa or strong dark chocolate, not the mass-produced stuff that most of us eat and which is made up mainly of milk fat and sugar. Alison Hornby of the British Dietetic Association brings us down to earth: “Chocolate is an energy-dense food that could contribute to weight gain and a higher risk of disease. As an occasional treat, chocolate can be part of a healthy diet. Eaten too frequently, it is an unhealthy choice.”

I fear this is good, sensible advice  – even if Marie, Bernard, Edna and Emma were all able to ignore it and still make their way to 100. Kit Kat, anyone?

photo credit: Geknöppel via photopin (license)

Secret no.19 Mountain walking

Centenarian Nellie Sillitoe celebrated her 70th birthday by climbing Mount Snowdon in Wales. Nellie and her husband Reginald were keen mountaineers and climbed peaks in Austria, Italy and Switzerland – a pastime that son Richard, now 71 himself, gives credit for Nellie’s longevity.

18163636_2fc37dc769“My parents were great mountain walkers,” he told the local Stoke Sentinel. We were brought up in that environment, being taught to love the outdoors. I think that all those years of mountaineering were very beneficial. (It may also have had some impact on Richard’s choice of career – he is a professor of geology).

Richard’s account suggests other factors may also have played some part in his mother’s long life: “She has always maintained her mobility and made sure to get lots of fresh air and ate a fairly scrupulous diet. Her most exceptional trait, echoed by a number of people, is that she’s never been known to say a bad word about anyone. She always sees the best in people.” And perhaps in situations. Asked what she thought of her 100th birthday, Nellie said: “It’s just like any other day. You have to make the best of this world.”

But sticking with mountaineering for a moment, is it credible that it could have played a significant role in Nellie’s longevity?

Plausibilty rating: 9 out 10. At first glance, it seems unlikely that mountaineering would improve longevity. It is not without its risks, which the US National Centre for Health Statistics helpfully catalogues each year: So we know that if you choose to climb above 6,000m in the Himalayas then your annual risk of death is around 11 in 100. Even routine mountain climbing puts you at the not insubstantial risk of death of 1 in 1,750. However – though the Stoke Sentinel is not clear on this point – it seems more likely that Nellie and her husband in fact took part in what the NCHS categorises as ‘mountain hiking’. Fortunately for this the chance of death, er, plummets to 1 in 15,700. That still makes it more than twice as risky as scuba diving but it’s certainly not base jumping (1 in 60) or grand prix racing (1 in 100).

So if the risks of mountaineering/mountain walking aren’t such an issue, what about the benefits? These, in turns out, are substantial. The British Mountaineering Council says that regular brisk walking will ‘improve performance of the heart, lungs and circulation, as well as lower blood pressure‘, while regular walking ‘has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers’. And don’t get them started on the mental health benefits: walking ‘heals our brains, helps us concentrate, makes us more creative and can help treat depression’. But does it add years to life? Plenty of studies suggest it does. One, in 2012, found that regular, moderate physical exercise such as brisk walking could increase life expectancy by several years. Normal weight people who exercised for at least 150 minutes a week lived over 7 years longer than people who were inactive or obese.

So there we have it. Mountain hiking really could be responsible for some of Nellie’s longevity. It alone may not have got her all the way to 100 but it could well have helped.

photo credit: Mt. Goryu via photopin (license)