Secret no.35 A can of Dr Pepper for breakfast

onehundred_2At 100, Jane Rogers is not much younger than the beverage she drinks first thing every morning – Dr Pepper, the oldest soft drink in the United States. And she shares a few characteristics with it.

Firstly, they’e both Texan. The drink was created in Waco, Texas, barely a two hour driver from Jane’s birthplace in Wills Point, Texas.

Then there’s the name: both were (kind of) named after doctors.  Jane was christened not Jane but ‘Odoska’, the name apparently inspired by the daughter of a doctor that her mother knew. (By contrast, no one knows where the name Dr Pepper comes from, though there are plenty of attempts to explain it, none of them entirely convincing).

The drink also prides itself on its unique, vintage quality, something that Jane probably wouldn’t mind being applied to her as well. She grew up going to school on a horse or in an open wagon, in all weathers. She lived through a bout of malaria aged 10 (her mother also had it and was expected to die, but didn’t). She married at 19 to a farm worker and went to live on the farm. “I’d help milk the cows every morning and sell the cream, and did other work. It was hard, but we managed.”

In 1952, she moved with her husband, Elmer, to a ranch in Calera, Oklahoma. Though Elmer died in 1987, Jane continues to live there and – though she uses a walker – is in good health. Could that daily can of Dr Pepper play any part in that?

Plausibility rating: 1 out of 10. Though Dr Pepper may have ‘23 fruit flavors‘ it doesn’t have much in the way of the fruits’ goodness. Its ingredients are carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural and artificial flavors, sodium benzoate and caffeine. A typical can has 150 calories and the equivalent of a whopping nine teaspoons of sugar.

But Jane has a balanced diet apart from her unusual breakfast (the other part is a honey bun) and at 100 she clearly feels she’s entitled to her morning indulgence. As her local paper put it: “After a century of living, this friendly, little lady with a sweet tooth has earned the right to start her day any way she pleases.”

Exactly. Dr Pepper won’t have helped Jane get to 100 but it’s clearly helping her get the most out of the experience.





Alcohol ‘a threat to life, not a secret to extending it’

6919247795_3e388d13d7_oThe UK’s top doctor has dismissed one of the most consistent centenarian longevity ‘secrets’ – a daily glass of beer, Scotch, wine or Guinness.

Rather than extending life, says the government’s Chief Medical Officer, any amount of daily alcohol is a risk to it. Dame Sally Davis says alcohol increases the risk of many cancers and its protective effect against heart disease has been overstated. She outlined new official guidance which says people should not drink every day and should limit their weekly intake to the equivalent of seven glasses of wine, though even this relatively small amount brings an element of increased risk.

There is some slight comfort for women over 55, for whom  drinking up to five units of red wine may still protect the heart. That though is no more than two and a half glasses of wine a week.

The new recommendations stem from a view that previous research studies showing a much larger protective effect of drinking alcohol were flawed. We have covered that concern here.

The new advice means that UK has some of the toughest advice on drinking. Would-be centenarians who have a daily glass of red wine, a shot of whisky or – as in this recent centenarian’s storya daily Martini for lunch get no support for their habit.

It remains to be seen whether other countries will follow the UK’s lead. And – just guessing here – I think it’s unlikely to alter many centenarians’ beliefs about alcohol and longevity, at least in the short term.


photo credit: the problem of sympathy via photopin (license)

Secret no.28 Surviving the 1918 flu epidemic

3031443773_316088e415_oNoeleen Hughes, who died recently in New Zealand at the age of 102, survived the worst pandemic in human history.

The ‘Spanish Flu’ epidemic of 1918-19 was a genuine disaster, infecting one in every five people in the world and killing between 20 and 40 million of them. It was more virulent than the plague and, unusually, hit hardest at healthy young adults. It struck a world still recovering from conflict, killing ten times as many Americans as had died in the first world war and depressing life expectancy for a decade.

Noeleen caught the virus but recovered and her son-in-law believes that this was the reason she had such a long and fruitful life – she raised three daughters, taught for over two decades and lived on her family farm.

So is it possible that he’s right?

Plausibility rating: 3 out of 10. We do know now that surviving the ‘flu would have helped Noeleen in one way: it gave lifelong immunity against a recurrence of the virus. Over 90 years after the pandemic, a study found that antibodies extracted from its survivors still protected mice exposed to virus for the first time.

However there’s no reason to believe that it would have offered any greater protection against other illnesses and ageing. And we would know if it did because, despite the huge death toll, surviving the virus was still the norm. Though it was far more virulent than other strains of the flu, the virus still ‘only’ killed 2.5 percent of those infected. And there’s nothing to suggest that the hundreds of millions who survived had extended lives (though it means that Noeleen was in some exalted company – other survivors included Walt Disney, David Lloyd Georgee, Franklin D Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Haile Selasse I and the artists Edward Munch and Georgia O’Keeffe).

So Noeleen’s relatively brief but surely traumatic experience in her teens is very unlikely to have been the reason to her long life.

Son-in-law Philip does however have other possible candidates. ‘Hard work‘ we’ve already covered and surely sometime soon we’ll consider his other explanation, ‘having no vices’.

photo credit: From 1918 Influenza Outbreak via photopin (license)

Secret no.24 Whisky

9932066903_a466fa3984What is it with whisky? Lots of our centenarians have thought that a shot or two of Scotch was the reason they’ve made it to 100.

Recently we recorded the death of Ruth Newman, one of the last survivors of the 1903 San Francisco earthquake, who said that her longevity secret was a Scotch and water every night. We’ve also recorded the death at 111 of Nazar Singh, who cited good food, a loving family – and again a tot of whisky every night. And Agnes Fenton upped the alcohol stakes a little by saying her secret was three beers and a whisky chaser.

The most recent advocate is 109 year old Worcestershire woman Grace Jones*, who turned 109 this month (September) and has had a small glass of whisky every night for the last 57 years. Grace has lived through the reigns of five British monarchs, starting with Queen Victoria’s heir, Edward VII, and 22 British Prime Ministers, beginning with Henry Campbell-Bannerman. She’s led a bit of a nomadic life, moving house 27 times with her husband, Leonard but ‘Amazing Grace’, as she is known to her friends, is certainly consistent about her whisky – she told her local newspaper last year, on her 108th birthday: “I never miss it. I don’t drink and all I have is the whisky at night. Whisky is very good for you. He (her doctor) said keep up with the whisky Grace, it’s good for your heart.”

So is it? Or does whisky have some other quality that could possibly have helped Grace and some many other centenarians clock up their 100 years?

*Oddly, Grace is not the first Englishwoman called Grace Jones to hit 100. The ‘other’ Grace Jones lived in south-east London and, until her death in 2013 at the age of 113, was the last British person alive to be born in the 19th century.

Plausibility rating: 6 out of 10. We’ve explored other types of alcohol before and come to the conclusion that the case for it isn’t that strong. True, there is research evidence that a small amount of alcohol consumption is associated with longer life. However that evidence is disputed and once we go beyond a moderate intake, alcohol is associated with a whole lot of harm.

So why would a ‘wee dram’ be any better? Some people do use it as a nighttime sedative – the classic nightcap – so could that somehow help improve longevity? Sadly no. Alcohol may help you get off to sleep but the quality of that sleep is likely to be poorer. It does seem possible that whisky in the form of a hot toddy might help you with the symptoms of the common cold but surely that’s not enough to extend a lifespan.

However there are one or two qualities of whisky that might just put it above your average alcoholic drink and which perhaps justify our plausibility rating. For one thing, it’s relatively low in calories – about 75 in a small measure – about the same as a glass of dry white wine.  More importantly though it’s full of ellagic acid, gallic acid and lyoniresinol – all of which improve the antioxidant properties of your blood (wonderfully, the older the Scotch, the bigger the effect).  It even seems to work in practice – an admittedly small (in truth, tiny) piece of research involving the comparison of red wine, mature Scotch and a younger spirit found the Scotch had the greatest antioxidant effect. The research concludes that the findings are compatible with suggestions that moderate intake ‘decreases the risk of coronary heart disease’.

Which was exactly what Grace’s doctor said, wasn’t it? So we’re giving Grace (and her doctor), Ruth, Nazar, Agnes and Henry the benefit of the doubt and giving whisky a creditable six out of 10 as a longevity secret. Just remember to choose the very best, longest matured, single malt Scotch if you really want to live a long time.

photo credit: Various Whiskies via photopin (license)

NEWS: That’s another Guinness for me…

3820217887_a430856208_mAnother centenarian has sworn by a daily pint of Guinness. According to her local newspaper, Alice Patten takes no medication – just a glass of the black stuff every day, apparently on the advice of her doctor. Alice has just turned 100 and still gets out and about shopping. ‘She still has all her marbles and is 100 per cent with it,’ says daughter Brenda, who lives with her.

We’ve previously seen how fellow centenarian Gladys Fielden says Guinness is her longevity secret, though sadly we could only give it a disappointing 5 out of 10 as a potential route to a longer life.

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?

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=”″>Beers and Cheers 011809</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

Secret no.16 A good doctor

3373106750_2ddd4772d9Centenarian Lilian Grundy doesn’t think she’s particularly old – she has an older sister-in-law in Australia who’s 104 and a younger sister who’s also still going strong.

Her life has taken in running a fish and chip shop, being a Citizen Advice Bureau adviser and – during the war – seeing a doodlebug hit her home town, Oldham. Her husband, Harry, died in 1970 and Lilian has no children.

The key to her longevity, she thinks, is being able to follow good medical advice: “I must have a good doctor. I think my secret really must be that I do what I’m told. If the doctor tells me to do something, I do it.”

So, is she right about her doctor being the key to her long life?

Plausibility rating: 7 out of 10. At first it seems obvious that medical care has played the most significant role in increasing life expectancy but in fact it’s a surprisingly contentious claim. Some historians argue that it is public health issues – clean water, better housing, the decline of smoking, safer food, workplaces and homes – that have played the larger role. Certainly life expectancy grew rapidly in the 19th century, ahead of the great medical advances of the 20th century such as antibiotics. And there were marked falls in life expectancy, particularly for men, from 1914-1919 and 1939-1945 so clearly non-medical factors have played a role too (think of that doodlebug from Lilian’s life history). In fact, one thorough study of the subject credited medical care with just 50% of the increase in life expectancy since 1950.

But what we’re interested in is the growth in the number of the oldest old and especially those who reach 100. Surely the main reason for the increase in centenarians is our ability to keep alive for longer people with multiple long-term conditions? Well, yes and no. A major study of Okinawans, who have more than twice the rate of centenarians of the US population, cites a range of factors that includes public health infrastructure, housing, income, and nutrition as well as access to better medical care.

So it looks as though Lilian’s longevity secret is part of the answer but not the whole answer.

photo credit: <a href=”″>Nurse</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;