Centenarian of the week: Armenia’s Doukhik Badoyan

Writing this blog I come across so many 100-year-olds whose stories demand to be told but who don’t have any particular ‘secret’ of longevity to relate. So I’ll write up a few of them, giving a glimpse into what are often remarkable lives.

First up, a rarity: English language coverage of a centenarian from Armenia. But how brilliant that website www.hetq.am is there to tell us about the formidable Doukhik Badoyan.

During the course of a lengthy interview, Mrs Badoyan makes a toast to world peace in local moonshine and demands that the journalist, Grisha Balasanyan, drink with her – keeping a wary eye out to make sure that he does.“If you don’t drink my 100th birthday will be for nothing. It’s the first time you’re visiting my house. It would be rude not to drink.”

We get some sense of what must have been an incredibly tough life. She remembers having to grow tobacco, half-starved. And standing line to collect the family’s bread ration, fighting for the best bits.

Mrs. Badoyan lost her husband in WWII and raised their only son by herself. A long period under the Soviets may explain her initial, understandable, caution when the journalist arrives:

–          Have they come to punish me?

–          No, mom.

–          So why are they asking all these questions?

Mrs Badoyan’s son now takes care of her but until last year she was still working in the fields to collect grass for their animals. And she still has plans to grow potatoes to send to her grandkids.

Happy birthday, Mrs Badoyan

Source: Mrs. Badoyan from Gavar: Centenarian Toasts World Peace and Demands We Drink with Her – Hetq – News, Articles, Investigations

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Secret no.42 Travel

100-year-old Margaret Turnbull planned to travel the world with her husband, John, when he retired. Sadly, John died in 1979 before they got the chance but he made Margaret promise to keep to their plans – and she did, visiting Hawaii, Alaska, Africa and Spain.

Margaret thinks that travelling helped her reach 100: she puts her long life down to “good exercise, good healthy meals, good friends – and travel if you can.”*

We know that travel is supposed to broaden the mind but can it increase lifespan as well?

Plausibility rating: 7 out of 10. Just possibly. One study ( a follow-up to the large-scale Framingham heart study which started in the 1960s) found that women who traveled at least twice a year had a lower risk of a heart attack or dying from heart disease than those who traveled less frequently.

For men, a nine-year study found those who did not take an annual vacation had a 20 percent higher risk of death and about a 30 percent greater risk of death from heart disease. The authors conclude: “Vacationing may be good for your health“.

So what might be going on here? Why might it be good for us to travel? This paper for the Global Commission on Aging (admittedly commissioned by the American Travel Association) reviews the evidence and suggests that travel increases physical and mental activity, gets our brains working (how do you say ‘a soy latte and a breakfast muffin please’ in Spanish) and gets us socially engaged, all of which have positive health benefits.

Now if you’re reading this while eating cold airport food in a crowded departure lounge at Luton waiting for a Ryanair flight to Magaluf that’s been delayed for half a day, this may all seem a little idealistic. And it is surely true that, as this research concludes, “poorly planned and stressful vacations eliminate the positive benefit of time away“.

But a good holiday, well planned can be a genuine tonic – and much better for us than spending our money on a new car or a watch. Thomas Gilovich, the Cornell professor who has made a career of studying the subject, shows that spending on experiences such as holidays makes us much happier than spending on objects.

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” he writes. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

The sad part for Margaret is that she didn’t get to share those experiences with John. But at least she got to have them.

*As well as the travel, Margaret enjoyed swimming, hiking and gardening. At the age of 80 she was still teaching line dancing and taking ice-cold swims in Saranac Lake.

Secret no.41 Vitamin pills

The remarkable thing about centenarian Ida Sass is not so much that she takes part in an exercise class – other 100-year-olds do that. It’s that she runs it, twice a week.  It attracts a dozen or so participants and Ida is part of the draw: “We’ve had a few substitutes but nothing takes her place,” says participant LaVern Rieschl.

Nor could anyone stop her. Her daughter, Joanne Froelke, says: “You don’t tell my mother anything. If she has her mind made up, she will do it.”

That spirit was probably necessary during a lifetime that took in Spanish flu (aged 3, she hid under her bed covers in a vain attempt to avoid the vaccine jab), the Depression (‘Those were horrible years”), the Dust Bowl (“It was 12 noon and it was pitch black”) and the loss of her first child at just a few days old.

Given the exercise classes, it’s no surprise that Ida puts her longevity down to staying active. But perhaps more surprising she adds: “I also take vitamins every day, and I think that has helped.”

Let’s look at the evidence for whether it might have.

Plausibility rating: 5 out of 10.

Our bodies certainly need vitamins but there’s still huge debate about whether they need vitamin supplements. With the exception of some at-risk groups, most medical advice is clear that it’s better to get our vitamins from a healthy diet. The problem is that many of us don’t. In the UK, nearly two-thirds of people fail to eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables daily. In the United States, this study found that most people fail to get enough nutrients, with the problem being worse among the disabled.

While some studies suggest vitamin supplements can help fill the nutrient gap, there is little conclusive evidence they make a difference to overall health. This summary of research involving over 90,000 people could find no evidence they affect mortality, cardiovascular disease or cancer. Overall, medical advise is that there’s insufficient evidence to recommend people take a multivitamin and there may even be some risks to taking one. (If you’re ignoring that advice you’re far from alone though: around 40 percent of US people say they take a multivitamin and US$32bn is spent on advertising them).

The exception for older people is vitamin D. It’s difficult to get enough from our food and, particularly in winter, older people may not get enough from its most natural source – sunlight. It’s estimated that half the older people in the US who have hip fractures may be deficient in vitamin D and in the UK medical advice is that everyone over 65 should take a supplement.

All in all, though, there’s not enough to suggest that Ida’s vitamins are what’s got for her to 100. Staying active though – as we’ve seen in lots of previous posts, now that might be a more promising explanation.

photo credit: Vitamin Packaging via photopin (license)

World’s oldest barber still cutting hair at 105

Anthony Mancinelli started cutting hair when Calvin Coolidge was in the White House. Now he is believed to be he oldest working barber in the world, with no plans retire. He celebrated his 105th birthday earlier this month. 

He’s been cutting hair so long that in a previous interview he said he could remember the days when barbers doubled up as doctors. He had a bottle of leeches which he’d use if a customer had high blood pressure or a black eye.

But Anthony himself seems never to be ill, putting his longevity variously down to eating well and never drinking or smoking. Others say his two regular aspirin a day may have something to do with it.

Whatever it is, it seems to be working: not only does Anthony cut his customers’ hair but his own as well.

Source: World’s oldest barber still on cutting edge in Orange County at age 104

100-year-old British woman credits longevity to yoga

“Great grandmother Jean Dawson celebrated her 100th birthday on February 20, and she credits her longevity to a simple habit she picked up when she was 67: yoga”.

It’s a lovely story and there is lots of evidence that yoga adds to quality of life. It also feels like it should be good for you. But as I’ve said in a previous post there’s surprisingly little hard evidence that yoga leads to a longer life. The best I could find was this small study from India which suggests that there may be health benefits and they might improve longevity. However a larger review into the health benefits of yoga in preventing cardiovascular disease concluded that the few positive studies were ‘small, short term and low quality’.

So until we have some positive results from large, long-term and high quality studies you should probably continue with yoga for the sense of wellbeing rather than any extra years.

Source: 100 year old British woman credits longevity to yoga