RIO DE JANEIRO – She rode her bicycle until she was 100 years old, walked unassisted at 115 and smoked until 117. She ate a kilogram of chocolate every week and drank a glass of port wine every day. All of this, until her death, at 122.
The explantions for the "hyper-longevity" of people like Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment (1875-1997) fascinate regular folk and researchers alike. Genes? Diet? Exercise? Positive attitude? Social life? Science knows that genes count for 30% of longevity. The rest is believed to be a result of lifestyle and socio-environmental factors, many of which can be changed and adapted.
Researchers understand that not everyone can become a “super centenarian,” who are those that live past 110. Today, there are 70 of them in the world (65 women and five men). Another 400 say they belong to this category, but lack documents to confirm it. In Brazil, according to government statistics there are almost 24,000 centenarians. Bahia (3,525), São Paulo (3,146) and Minas Gerais (2,597) have the largest concentrations.
Good genes aren’t everything
In the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), researchers are studying 245 people who are over 80 years old. They are given check-ups and medical treatment, as well as advice on sleep, memory, diet and physical activities.
“Many of our patients are about to become centenarians. We are evaluating how to make their lives free of physical, mental, emotional and social limitations,” says Maysa Seabra Cendoroglo, professor of Geriatric and Gerontology at Unifesp, who took part in Brazil’s recently concluded Congress of Geriatric and Gerontology, held in Rio.
Is it possible for a centenarian to stay independent up until the end? “There have been many studies on this question. For the answer to be yes, it is necessary to maintain a good diet, constant physical activities and cognitive stimulus”, the doctor explains.
Is this possible even without proper genes? "Yes. You may not reach 100, but at least 80. You just have to do your best until the very end.”