11 April 2013
There is a new fad these days, it seems, where an increasing number of people are living past 110 years old. They have even founded a snooty exclusive club, called the ‘Supercentenarians’, as if they’re a legion of comic book superheroes, and they won’t allow anyone to join who isn’t just like them. Hmph! I imagine that they must spend their days lounging around in wheelchairs and boasting to one other about how much older and wiser they are than everyone else. And around these elderly oldsters a group of banished reporters flit around like buzzing mosquitoes, swarming from one end of the world to the next for a single interview with that ruling champion of the supercentenarians, the world’s oldest documented living person. Since the title holder usually only survives for a few weeks to a few months, this newsbeat keeps these unloved reporters busy and far removed from their boss’s hair. Invariably the exiled reporters ask the oldest man or woman this question: “What is your secret to a long life?”
The answer seems to fascinate people, presumably because most of us want to live forever, or at least much longer than we will. People figure that a magic formula exists that will add several years to their lives. “Don’t smoke and don’t eat red meat, and you’ll live forever!” Even I, while gaining competitiveness in the arena of old age, have adopted The-World’s-Oldest-Living-Person as my favorite sport, beating out baseball. I enjoy it because these otherwise unremarkable people tell interesting stories about their lives, and because each of them is a living, breathing link to times long past, times for which I cannot help but feel a great nostalgia.
My favorite ‘athlete’ is also the greatest of the supercentenarians: Jeanne Calment. Dying in 1997 at the age of 122, she holds the world record for the longest confirmed human lifespan. In 1965, a scheming lawyer wanted her apartment, and he agreed to pay the 90-year-old Calment 2,500 francs each month until she died so he could own the apartment afterward. The crafty lawyer paid that monthly sum for thirty years, till he died of old age himself, and then his widow had to keep paying each month until Calment finally died a couple of years later. I don’t know if that miscalculating lawyer’s wife ended up taking the apartment or not.
The current reigning champion is Jiroemon Kimura. This friendly Japanese man, with luck, will turn 116 on 19 April, and he’s the ninth oldest person in history who we’re absolutely sure of. He claims that eating small portions of food will provide a long and healthy life. I read somewhere recently that Mr. Kimura plans to climb Mount Everest for the third time; I wish him the greatest of luck in this bold endeavor!
I cannot help but feel a great sadness when thinking that, within a year or two, the last person born in the 1800’s will quietly pass into the great unknown. An endangered species will have gone extinct, this living link to a lost century, and this link will then fade into lifeless history. Only ten of them yet survive!
So how have they done it, these supercentenarians? Their answers to the exiled reporters vary, of course, but they share some common themes: these include a belief in God, various diets and healthy practices, an overall happy or stress-free outlook on life. Occasionally they give an odd-ball answer. When one of the unloved reporters asked 113-year-old Elizabeth Bolden the secret to her long life, she kept answering frankly, “I don’t know” and then threatened to “whoop the shit out of” her daughter who kept trying to cover her with a blanket. Bolden died in 2006 at the age of 116, and I think her answer of “I don’t know” is the most honest and accurate.
These ‘supercentenarians’ do share certain patterns. A large portion of them have lived in the United States, Japan, or Europe, which suggests that the improved living conditions of the developed world benefit human longevity, though the better birth documentation also gives the developed world a skewed predominance—quite a few people from less developed countries have failed to prove their great ages because of their lack of documented proof. Also most supercentenarians are women, but we already know that women live longer. It’s worthy to note that these 110+’ers seem to have plenty of people around to care for and interact with them. I should also note that a hare-brained theory is floating around that smoking tobacco has extended the lives of these supercentenarians, and the theory’s proponents do correctly list several supercentenarian smokers. But most people from that time smoked, and I don’t believe that this plays any part in their longevity, either one way or the other. So, overall then, these shared patterns aren’t incredibly useful.
Gerontologists haven’t figured out the answer either, and they generally don’t agree on any single theory on human longevity. Some think that genetics play the primary role, while others think it’s more of a matter of wear and tear, or that aging is accelerated by the accumulation of elements within the body. In other words, they haven’t got a clue.
A whole anti-aging industry pushes the sale of quack supplements, hormones, and drugs to slow or reverse aging; they use buzzwords like ‘free radicals’, ‘antioxidants’, and ‘beta-carotene’. Don’t waste your money! I tried all that stuff myself and don’t feel any different at all. When I called to complain about a particular product and finally spoke to a real live human being, the lady informed me that I wasn’t dead yet so the Dr. Denese Hydroshield Ultra Moisturizing Face Serum must be working. I asked her, “If I die, can I get my fifty dollars back?”, but she just hung up on me. The rudeness of these companies!
So how do you live to 115 anyway? The answer is obvious: don’t die!
Edit 11 June 2013: Jiroemon Kumura, the world’s oldest person when this article was written, has died. He seemed like a good and honorable man, and I don’t know what else to say. It’s sad.
 And if that’s true, I’m hopeless! This morning I ate a whole box of Grape-Nuts in one sitting. I just poured the milk right into the plastic cereal bag inside the box, then I shook it up and drank ‘er right down! After this sort of breakfast I am done for the day! And that, dear readers, is Ostrander Bellepoint’s secret to a long life. We shall see if it pans out.
 Nicolaysen, Lars. “Everest Beckons for ‘Golden Oldie'” World News. Independent Online, 2 Apr. 2013. Web. 09 Apr. 2013. http://www.iol.co.za/news/world/everest-beckons-for-golden-oldie-1.1494201.