How to live to 100 : History’s centenarians

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Saturday 15 March 1930 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The British Newspaper Archive has had the inspired idea of looking at the longevity secrets of centenarians from the past, as reported in the newspapers of their day. And it turns out they are very similar to modern 100 year olds.

We learn that in 1930 Mrs Caroline Trickey put her longevity down to being content with her lot and ‘never eating more than I want to’. Shades here of Mary Williams, who said her secret was eating just one meal a day.

In complete contrast to Mrs Trickey, 100-year-old Miss Fanny Daniel of Combe Martin said her secret was ‘eating well’. In 1926 she told her local newspaper: ‘I have always had substantial food. My people used to kill a bullock for the house so you see I have always lived well’. There’s an echo there of Ruby Byford, whose family said her secret was ‘eating for England’.

And in 1927 Mrs Sophia Ellis was telling the Cornishman that her secret was ‘hard work‘: ‘I was left with seven children after my husband died. It was a battle to get along’. A perfect match with Vera Walsh, who told us that her secret was also ‘hard work’.

Most entertaining however was Mr Zaro Agha, who claimed to be 160 and to have fought in six wars (one at the age of 100), been married 12 times and met Napoleon. His secret – told to the Dundee Evening Telegraph in 1934 – included being vegetarian. That’s similar to Dr Ellsworth Wareham, whose secret was veganism.

However there are some differences. No one recently has suggested that lifespan can lengthened by an injection from the testes of monkeys. The offer of that rejuvenating ‘moneky gland’ treatment was made by a Dr Serge Voronoff but rejected on the not unreasonable grounds that it was unnecessary: Mr Agha was already pretty old and ‘had never felt younger’. It seems that he had not got to 100 (or 160 even) without being able to know a charlatan when he saw one.

Source: How to live to 100 : History’s centenarians reveal their secrets

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?

Secret no.11 One meal a day

41415099_e3de17b2ac_oDespite reaching 100 on June 22nd, Mary Williams has the enviable record of only having been to hospital once (after a fall on a bus when she was 94).

Mary lives alone in supported housing but her family flew in from as far away as Australia to celebrate her 100th birthday. She had what sounds like quite a tough live to begin with – born into a workhouse in County Galway, Ireland, and then raised by nuns until she was 16.

Despite this, she’s managed to get to 100. How? She partly puts this remarkable record down to her regime of drinking a pint of warm water, once in the morning and once in the evening. But Mary also says she has another secret, one that might have a bit more going for it: her habit of only eating one meal a day.

Could that really be a factor?

Plausibility rating: 6 out of 10. Keeping hydrated is important but probably not the key to longevity. More possible is the habit of eating just one meal a day: calorie restriction has been shown to increase longevity in mice and other animals, and a serious study on humans – Calerie – is underway. It involves eating 25% less calories, while maintaining adequate nutrition. There’s even a society dedicated to putting it into practice – CR Society International. It says its website is ‘the most important you’ll ever visit’, which is quite some claim.

It may not work of course but as that old joke goes: ‘It’ll probably feel like it’.

photo credit: lunch via photopin (license)