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Supercentenarians are extremely healthy

Reaching an extremely old age comes down to remaining extremely healthy. As you age, you are not hampered by aches and pains or chronic disease and you are able to look after yourself none of those walking aids or a wheelchair. This is the conclusion that researchers at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles reached after studying data on men and women who had lived to over 110.

There are more and more supercentenarians on the planet: people over the age of 110. Some of them are famous, like the French woman Jeanne Calment. Born in 1875, Calment died in 1997 at the age of 122. She attributed her old age to her lifestyle. She was fond of a glass of port, used olive oil and ate about 1 kg of chocolate a week. In the last years of her life she was probably the oldest person on earth, and she has her own Wikipedia entry. [Wikipedia]

For the last 12 years of her life, Calment was a supercentenarian. On the website, the American Gerontology Research Group publishes data on this group of extremely old people. We found the figure shown below on, which shows the growth of the number of supercentenarians in the US.

Collecting data on supercentenarians is not easy. According to US government databanks, there were 1400 supercentenarians alive in 2000. After the Gerontology Research Group had checked the information in the databanks, only 70 remained.

Of those that passed the Gerontology Research Group's test, the researchers selected 32 men and women, aged between 110 and 119. When the researchers looked for common factors that the supercentenarians shared, they discovered that they were a picture of health. Supercentenarians have noticeably little cardiovascular disease, Parkinson's or cancer. The only common complaints were cataracts and osteoporosis.

A criticism made of the longevity movement is that all the effort that life-extenders go to to remain healthy ultimately leads to decades of suffering in a wheelchair or hospital bed. But supercentenarians are living proof that reaching a ripe old age doesn't necessarily mean that you can no longer take care of yourself. An earlier study of centenarians showed that 88 percent of them was able to live on their own up to the age of 92. [Lancet 1999; 354:652.] "The older you get, the healthier you have been", scientists suspect.

The same is probably true of the supercentenarians in this study. Sixteen percent of them still lived completely unsupported, and 25 percent needed only minimal assistance.

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2006 Aug;54(8):1237-40.

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