Friday, June 30, 2023

Andy Young: Aiming for triple digits

By Andy Young

A 100th birthday is a special occasion. It’s literally a once-in-a-lifetime event, although in truth, any particular birthday is by definition a once-in-a-lifetime event.

My father was born July 2, 1923. I can only imagine what my siblings and I would have done to mark his 100th birthday this coming week.

We can only imagine it because our father died more than 49 years ago.

Few people get to enjoy (or endure, as the case may be) 100 years of life. However, those intent on doing so should absorb some sobering statistics before reserving a banquet facility to celebrate their personal centennial.

According to Boston University’s New England Centenarian Study, only one in 5,000 Americans makes it to the century mark. And for those using “he” and “him” as their pronouns of choice, the odds are even longer, since according to that same study 85 percent of America’s centenarians are women.

There aren’t many people left who began life in 1923. Notables born that year who failed to last 10 decades include U.S. senators Bob Dole and Ted Stevens; baseball Hall-of-Famers Red Schoendienst and Larry Doby; entertainers Linda Darnell, Anne Baxter, Estelle Getty, Larry Storch, Charlton Heston, Ted Knight, Dick Shawn, Charles Durning, Jean Stapleton and Ed McMahon; writers Norman Mailer and James Dickey; pilot Chuck Yeager, astronaut Wally Schirra, gossip columnist Liz Smith, Super Bowl-winning football coach Hank Stram, director Franco Zeffirelli and Monaco’s Prince Rainier.

Natives of 1923 faced a particularly difficult obstacle to a long life: the Second World War. Over 50 million people worldwide died during that horrific conflict and given the relative age of those in the military of any of the involved nations between 1941 and 1945, it’s reasonable to assume several million people born in 1923 didn’t make it past age 22.

Other notable 1923 natives who didn’t last even five decades include Irish poet Brendan Behan, who was just 41 when his warranty expired in 1964; boxer Rocky Marciano, the only world heavyweight champion to finish his career undefeated and who perished in a 1969 plane crash, and Yugoslavia’s last king, Peter II, who died the year after Marciano at age 47.

Despite the long odds of hitting the century mark, there’s plenty of living evidence that it’s doable, even for those born in 1923. James Buckley, who served New York in the United States Senate from 1971 to 1977, turned 100 this past March 9, and Dr. Frank Field, a well-known New York City television weatherman, did the same just three weeks later. Former presidential advisor Henry Kissinger became a member of the century-old club on May 27, and game show host/animal rights activist Bob Barker is due to join them on December 12.

Anyone intent on reaching a triple-digit chronological age most likely knows enough to exercise regularly, eat healthily and moderately, maintain social support, manage stress, and sleep at least seven hours a night. Similarly, serious longevity seekers know to steer clear of smoking and also to avoid abusing drugs, even (or perhaps especially) legal ones like alcohol. And recent tragic events should serve as a reminder that there are other avoidable risks to longevity, like voyaging to the ocean floor to visit the Titanic.

The bottom line: non-smoking, reasonably social people who eat healthily and in moderation, exercise regularly, and maintain a regular sleep schedule are doing everything within their power to maximize their odds of attaining a lengthy life span. But the other 98 percent of what determines who’ll live to see 100 candles on their birthday cake is a factor that’s much more difficult to control.

It’s called dumb luck. <


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