elderly

These Centenarians Reveal Their Secrets (Hint: Marriage Is Complicated)

Shot of a happy senior couple going for a walk in the park

People used to joke about being able to make it to 100, but within recent years, it’s actually more of a reality for many. Apparently, according to U.S. Census reports, the number of centenarians has increased about 66% between 1980 and 2000.

PBS recently spoke with several people who are 100 and over about what they think has contributed to their old age–and some of the answers are surprising.

For instance, 100-year-old Bernard Hirsh and his 102-year-old wife Bee were married in 1978–both had been widowed by the that time, as they were in their early 60s at the time.  The Dallas couple told the station that marriage is the key to their longevity, stating:

“I think it’s been such a wonderful marriage, and we’ve contributed to each other’s benefit.”

Companionship, of course, makes sense, since it not only can keep you from feeling alone, but someone else is able to help you if you’re suffering from an illness–and also provides mental stimulation (hello, disagreements!). And since people are living longer now, it’s especially relevant–James Vaupel, founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, noted that, “The number of centenarians in the U.S. and other countries has been doubling roughly every eight years. When the baby boomers hit, there’s going to be acceleration, and it might be doubling every five or six years.”

Meanwhile, 101-year-old Gertrude Siegel, who lives in a senior community in Boca Raton, Florida, is unmarried–and doesn’t seem to mind. Outliving both her husbands, she cites never smoking, the occasional glass of red wine, not eating meat, and exercise:

“I am not a big eater. I don’t eat much meat. I feel that’s what really kept my body pretty good. It wasn’t sports. It was exercises.”

Yet the whole marriage concept may be lopsided–in that it seems to benefit men more than women (are you surprised?). A 2015 Belgian study focused on centenarians born between 1893 and 1903–and found that their living arrangements during ages 60 and 100 makes all the difference:

“In very old age, living with a spouse is beneficial for men but not for women, for whom living alone is more advantageous than living with a spouse.”

So, ladies, maybe being single is the way to go if you want to live to 100. Where are all my single ladies?

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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