One Hundred Years of Plentitude: Surprising Longevity Secrets From Vera Wang and Some Freewheeling Centenarians
Vera Wang at the 2023 Fragrance Foundation Awards, New York, June 15, 2023. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
Living to 100 isn’t super rare anymore, these days making it past 110 — the “supercentenarian”— is the benchmark to beat. And though the wellness practices of the Blue Zones are all over the news these days, thanks in part to Dan Buettner’s hit Netflix docuseries, as well as other life-prolonging research that we’ve reported on extensively, there may be hope for the more hedonistic. A surprising number of those rounding their 11th decade put their long (happy!) lives down to a good-times blend of dancing, cocktails, chocolate, sex, laughter and bacon — lots of bacon.
Over the last few months, fashion designer Vera Wang has been making as much of a splash for her contraire aging advice as her chic wedding dresses. Hailed as “immortal” for her edgy-sexy red carpet looks, in June the preternaturally youthful 74-year-old announced that vodka was among her youthifying practices. Last week, she added donuts and daily McDonald’s to the list.
“I do eat McDonald’s, absolutely,” Wang told Page Six Style. “I order it every day, like two weeks on it, then I’ll change.” Of her Dunkin’ Donuts preferences, she likes “the cream-filled, sugar-coated donuts. Like a jelly donut, but it’s cream inside, vanilla cream. And the ones with pink sprinkles.”
Researchers say 85 per cent of those who celebrate triple-digit birthdays are women, while it’s more unusual for men to achieve supercentenarian status. Either way, one thing many of them have in common is some surprising advice on how they made it to 100 — and beyond. Healthy diet and regular exercise? Not really. Abstinence? Nope.
“Tequila,” came 101-year-old Mary Flip’s swift reply when asked to share the “secret to a happy life” on the occasion of her century-plus birthday. Celebrating with drinks and dancing, Flip told reporters, “Oh, I’ll get up on the table.” Adorned with a paper crown and a large button pinned to her blouse that read ‘One Year Sexier,’ they could hardly doubt her. Having lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War, the Arizona native’s insouciant response went viral. It earned her an equally well-aged, 100-year-old bottle of reposado from the Cazadores distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, with its owner flying in to mix her a drink.
The wonderfully named Dinkie Flowers, 101, from Sussex, England, would certainly agree with the dancing. “I couldn’t live without dancing. It’s what’s kept me young and happy. I just love it. I’d advise anyone — and everyone — to start dancing to keep your body and mind young … It’s never too late to start.” Shirley Goodman, 100, could only concur. Known as “The Dancing Nana” for Instagram videos (tap dancing to the ‘tush push’) that have gained her 73.7K followers, Goodman says a good boogie — plus chocolate — is the secret to a century-long life.
Ringing in her 105th year in Palm Harbour, Fla., Helen Granier, added gambling, smoking and cocktails, to the dancing. “I used to smoke, and we’d go out and drink and everything. We’d stay out late at night. Dancing, we always danced,” said Granier, adding that these days, she heads to Vegas for fun. “Oh, I like gambling. I love to play the slot machines.” Hailed as an inspiration by global media upon her birthday, one Australian reporter announced, “We have a new spiritual leader, and it’s a 105-year-old woman wearing a plastic crown.”
Still working as an accountant in Jinjin, China, at 100 years old, Zhang Kemin was also down with the smokes and liquor. Though he did cut back on the booze at 90 because he “didn’t want to cause any accidents at work.” Maintaining his professional life, enjoying a good stroll, never worrying about his diet, his only health problems were a little hearing loss. Which may have been an advantage since his advanced years had him living with five generations of his family. In related news, Kemin credited “rarely getting annoyed” as crucial to happiness.
Still, the last word on smoking your way through a very long life goes to Saparman Sodimejo, an Indonesian gent who lived to the ripe old age of 146. Known as Mbah Ghoto (Grandpa Ghoto), the BBC confirmed with local officials upon his death in 2017, that he had, indeed, been born in 1870, based on documents provided. Asked what his secret was, Ghoto, a heavy smoker to the very end who had outlived four wives and 10 siblings, said he’d enjoyed a century and half, “because I have people that love me looking after me.”
Staten Island’s Antoinette Inserra, another champion of drinking and gambling, told the media gathered for her 104th birthday, “I love my beer,” while also noting her “balanced diet” of soft-shell crabs, pepperoni and spinach. Mildred Bowers, 103, insisted on cold lager every day and the medical staff at her South Carolina seniors home approved. “Have a beer, doctor’s orders,” laughed Bowers.
Entering her 11th decade, Marguerite Robertson, 110, of New Westminster, B.C., said good food was as key as good liquor. “I’ve always had a good appetite,” she told Global News. “I like gin and tonic — and I like wine with my meal.” Jamaica’s Violet Brown had a stellar run from 1900 to 2017— yup, 117—having wine with every meal. Back in the U.S., Jerry Cohen, 105 — old enough to have caught Sinatra’s 1933 debut performance at New York’s Paramount Theatre — also thought wine and Jamaican food did the trick. Break out the jerk chicken and Malbec? These two are onto something.
Unusual Food Choices
Truth is, unusual food choices aren’t so unusual with this more freewheeling Centennial set. Born 13 years before Queen Elizabeth II, Oxford’s Winifred Parker’s 109th was fêted with a saxophonist playing her favourite song — 1919’s I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles — and the bubble machine to go with it. Her advice? A bacon sandwich every morning. Everyday bacon was also favoured by Susanna Mushatt Jones, 116, who started hers with eggs and bacon — but would “eat bacon all day long.” Same for Pearl Cantrell of Richmond Springs, Texas. “I love bacon. I eat it every day,” she told NBC affiliate KRBC when asked for her longevity tips. “I don’t feel as old as I am. That’s all I can say.” That’s for sure. Cantrell celebrated her 105th with a three-day party for more than 200 guests. Cherry on the birthday cake? Learning of Cantrell’s love for bacon, Oscar Mayer dispatched a special delivery via their Wienermobile in which a triumphant Cantrell rode “shot-bun” through her hometown.
Elizabeth Sullivan, another Texas firecracker, lived to 106 (and drove until she was 103) swearing by a trio of Dr. Peppers a day. “Three doctors told me if I drink it, I will die — but they died first,” she chuckled to CNN as an incredibly spritely 104-year-old. “Evidently my body needs sugar,” she had concluded. Who could disagree? Sullivan pointed out that she took no medication and, other than childbirth and having her tonsils removed, she’d never been in the hospital. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?
An Enthusiasm for Life
Of course, it’s not all food, wine and parties that see you vault gleefully into your 100s. “Independence” and “being the boss,” was the wise counsel of Virginia Oliver still running her own lobster business in Maine at 102 and out on her trawler three times a week. “You just have to keep going, otherwise you’d be in a wheelchair or something.” At 108, Ada Daniels of Derbyshire recommended to “have dogs, not children,” while British Brenda Osborne, 105, said the secret to a long and happy life was to “stay single.” Or more specifically, to “avoid men as they’re not worth the hassle.” A decree her countrywoman Olive Westerman, 100, helpfully whittled down a bit, advising that one should simply avoid “strange men.”
On the other hand, Toronto’s Geraldine Karlan, 100 and married five times, said one must “enjoy all of life’s goodies” and Joyce Jackson, 102, of Essex, England, put it more bluntly with “good sex.” In correlating news, 108-year-old Esmond Allcock from Saskatchewan, endorsed “picking a good wife,” noting that he “didn’t behave myself for a few years” before finding one. And 100-year-old television legend Norman Lear said it was a combination of love and laughter. “I think love and laughter are it! Laughter is the gift of the gods.”
Having spent her 105th birthday “dancing into the wee hours” with friends and family, “live freely” was Scottish globetrotter Georgina Patterson’s tip. “I travelled the world and saw everything I wanted to see. If I was to go back in time, I wouldn’t change a thing. I lived a very interesting life — but I made it interesting. It didn’t just happen.”
Good Luck and Good DNA
On a more practical note, Spain’s María Branyas Morera, 116, is certain it’s simply “luck and good DNA,” and British Columbia’s Ken Dimond, 105, got down to brass tacks, saying the whole trick to living a long life is just to “wake up every morning.”
He’d know, he’s been doing it since 1917.
All in all, gambling and dancing to good sex and donuts, the common thread in these more indulgent strategies for a very long life is that you enjoy yourself, that you have good friends and a good laugh. As Vera Wang says, “I value a vodka cocktail.” Take an approach that’s more carpe diem than low calorie, and who knows? Maybe you’ll be hosting a three-day party and dancing to the wee hours for your 105th. Cheers to that!