What would Benjamin Franklin say about the secret to longevity?
“Keep up your spirits, and that will keep up your bodies …”
At age 113, Henry Allingham became the oldest man in the world in June of this year. A veteran of World War I and II, he managed to hold onto this title for one month before passing away. (Photo at left, Henry Allingham in 1916.)
But he was only competing against men. The 10 oldest people in the world are all women. Gertrude Baines, the current record holder, is 115 years old.
Reaching one’s 100th birthday is still a rare achievement, but it is becoming more common. In 1980 the number of centenarians in the United States was 15,000. That number reached 77,000 in 2000.
The average American won’t see 90, but we have, as a nation, passed the point at which “the days of our years are threescore years and ten,” according to the 90th psalm. Today, on average, men live 74 years, and women live 80.
Ben Franklin liked to point, with pride, to the number of elderly Americans. Every man and woman who reached 80 was further evidence of the healthful climate and society of New England. Yet Franklin didn’t focus on his own mounting years, but tried to extend his life by ignoring them.
Writing to Thomas Bond when he was 74 years old, Franklin explained:
“For my own part, I do not find that I grow any older. Being arrived at seventy, and considering that by traveling further in the same road I should probably be led to the grave, I stopped short, turned about, and walked back again; which having done these four years, you may now call me sixty-six. Advise those old friends of ours to follow my example; keep up your spirits, and that will keep up your bodies; you will no more stoop under the weight of age, than if you had swallowed a hand-spike.”