New York Times (October 18, 2010): Secrets of the Centenarians

Publication Date: 
Mon, 10/18/2010

Esther Tuttle is nearing the end of the 10th decade of a remarkably productive and adventurous life. If all continues to go as well as it has to date, next July 1 she will join the rapidly growing clan of centenarians, whose numbers in the United States have increased to 96,548 in 2009 from 38,300 in 1990, according to the Census Bureau.

At age 92, Mrs. Tuttle (best known as Faity, her childhood nickname) wrote a memoir with the prescient title “No Rocking Chair for Me” (iUniverse) displaying an acute memory of events, names, dates and places that she retains as she approaches 100.

At 30 years her junior, I couldn’t begin to recall the kinds of details that remain fresh in her still very active mind. I can only hope, should I live that long, to be as vibrant and physically fit as she is.

What, I asked, is the secret to her longevity? Is it genetics? Perhaps, but it’s hard to say. Her parents died at ages 42 and 50, leaving her an orphan at age 11, along with three siblings, one of whom did live to 96.

Genes do play a role in longevity. Dr. Nir Barzilai, a geneticist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, reports that centenarians are 20 times as likely as the average person to have a long-lived relative. But a Swedish study of identical twins separated at birth and reared apart concluded that only about 20 to 30 percent of longevity is genetically determined. Lifestyle seems to be the more dominant factor.

As Mrs. Tuttle said in clarion tones that belie her advanced age: “I am blessed and I’ve worked on it. You’ve got to work, be cheerful and look for something fun to do. It’s a whole attitude.

www.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/health/19brody.html