Why trying to live to 150 is 'pretty much nonsense'

On Monday, the oldest American, Goldie Michelson of Boston, celebrated her 114th birthday.

Every centenarian these days is asked what their secret is. Michelson said she walked whenever she could.

Other centenarians have sworn by bacon, coffee with a slosh of whiskey, bowling, or eating three raw eggs a day and staying single.

But chances are good none of these is a magic potion (sorry, bacon-lovers).

When it comes to living that long, most of the credit probably is due to having exceptionally good genes. The rest is likely tied to having lived healthier lives.

But that doesn’t mean science can’t help us live longer. We just need to focus our energy on the right target, according to Eileen Crimmins.

Of the hopes many people have of living to be 150 years old, she says, “I think that’s all pretty much nonsense.” But that’s because she has a much more interesting goal in mind — and it’s one you and I could actually benefit from.

Studying centenarians tends to show that “the older you get, the healthier you’ve been.” So exercise can probably help, but the quirkier habits we love to read about, not so much. It’s more important to focus on building health and catching problems before they become hard to control.

In the US, that’s tricky because Americans under the age of 75 are generally less healthy than people in similar countries. We’re better than our peers at treating things like cancer. But health problems we’re surprisingly bad at tackling, like heart disease, lung disease, drug problems, sexually transmitted infections, and obesity sicken and kill people early in life.

“We’re trying to get people healthy up to the age of 75 or 80,” Crimmins said. She calls this idea extension of quality of life within a given lifespan — basically, you may not live any longer, but you’ll be healthier for more of the years you’re alive.

“I’m not worried much about what happens after age 100,” Crimmins said. “I don’t believe many people will make it beyond 100, and most people who do are relatively healthy for that age.”

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