By Miriam Weiner for U.S. News Health
In the Broadway musical "Fame", Carmen sings about wanting to live forever. Unfortunately, that's not possible: According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the average life expectancy of the world's population is 67.59 years; it's approximately 78 in the United States. But there's a group of people who surpass that average by leaps and bounds. While thousands of folks live to 100, only a handful -- so-called "supercentenarians" -- can look back on more than 110 years of life. Even more impressive, a few hit the supercentenarian milestone and just keep going.
The U.S.-based Gerontology Research Group (GRG) maintains a list of the world's current supercentenarians. As of March 6, 2012, 71 people (65 women and six men) were listed, the youngest being 110-year-old Jeanne Rannou of France (born on Sept. 14, 1901). Each person on the GRG's list must produce documents proving their longevity, which are then verified by GRG claims investigators. Using this data, "U.S. News" pays tribute to the world's oldest living citizens.
10. Hina Shikawatari And Tome Takaoka (Born Jan. 1, 1899 -- Tied)
These women share the No. 10 spot. Both have spent their entire lives in Japan, a country with above-average life expectancy. As of September 2010, Shikawatari was living on Japan's western coast, while Takaoka resided on the opposite coast of Japan's main island. Not much else is known about these two supercentenarians, other than that they both turned 113 in January.
9. Hatsue Ono (Born Oct. 31, 1898)
Hatsue Ono was born in 1898 in Iwate Prefecture along Japan's northeast coast. Sometime in the past century, this woman moved further north to Hokkaido prefecture, Japan's second-largest island. This is where she will spend her 114th birthday in October. Hokkaido is also known for its seafood-heavy diet, rich in omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce blood pressure and may lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and dementia. Hokkaido is also known for its lush natural landscape (home to several national parks) and chilly climate. It seems that Hokkaido has been good to Ono: She is the forth-oldest living person in Japan, trumping Hina Shikawatari and Tome Takaoka by just two months.
8. Mamie Rearden (Born Sept. 7, 1898)
Mamie Rearden (née Mamie Julia Lewis) is the oldest living black person in the world. She was born in Edgefield County, S.C., in 1898, where she still lives today. After earning her teaching certificate in 1918, Rearden married her husband, Ocay, and they 11 children. She resides with two of her kids -- her son, David, and her daughter, Martha -- and remains in good health, having celebrated her 113th birthday in September. Her longevity secret? "Always treat others as you want to be treated. Tend to your own business and live a good, clean life and the Lord will bless you," Rearden told the Augusta Chronicle last year.
7. Marie-Thérèse Bardet (Born June 2, 1898)
Like her longevity, Marie-Thérèse Bardet's life was unusual. She was born in a public hospital in Lorient -- a small town along the coast of Brittany, France -- to a single woman, which was scandalous in the late 1800s. When she was 15, Bardet came down with a severe case of typhoid fever, which caused her to lose her hair and nearly her life. Since then, her family claims that Bardet has enjoyed good health. Her son Leon (who is 90 years old) told Ouest-France.com that Bardet never smoked and that he can't remember her ever drinking anything other than water. Today, France's oldest living citizen resides in the Pontchâteau nursing home in Loire-Atlantic and is preparing to celebrate her 114th birthday in June. Bardet has two children, seven grandchildren and at least 15 great-grandchildren. (Still, Bardet has a ways to go before she trumps France's most famous supercentenarian, Jeanne Louise Calment, whose death at age 122 earned her the title of oldest person in recorded history.)
6. Kame Nakamura (Born March 8, 1898)
Kame Nakamura is Japan's third-oldest living person. She is 114 and lives in Okinawa prefecture, a small island between the East China and Philippine Seas. Many believe that Okinawans know the secret to "eternal youth," as many of them achieve centenarian status. Okinawans are generally active people and live on a low-calorie diet consisting of olive oil, fruits, veggies and grains.
5. Misawo Okawa (Born March 5, 1898)
Born in 1898, Misawo Okawa has just marked her 114th birthday, making her the oldest woman in Japan's Osaka prefecture, which is roughly 36 miles southwest of Kyoto. Until September 2011, when her age was reported to the Japanese authorities, Okawa's impressive longevity was not widely known. However, a bit of mystery surrounds her standing; there are ongoing efforts to identify another woman in Osaka who was reportedly born sometime between October and December 1897, a few months before Okawa. Until this unknown woman is identified, Okawa holds her title as the province's leading female supercentenarian.
4. Leila Denmark (Born February 1, 1898)
Until she retired in May 2001, Leila Alice Denmark (born Leila Daughtry) was the oldest-practicing pediatrician in the world, working at the Henrietta Eggleston Hospital on Atlanta's Emory University campus until she was 103 years old. Denmark's medical career is impressive: She was the third woman to graduate with a doctor of medicine degree from the Medical College of Georgia, and she codeveloped the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. Denmark has a lot of advice for aspiring supercentenarians. For example, she strongly objects to junk food and sweets (she has refused birthday cake several times because of the sugar content) and recommends drinking only water. Denmark also says a sense of humor is key to a long life, and she should know: She celebrated her 114th birthday in February.
3. Jiroemon Kimura (Born April 19, 1897)
In April 2012, Jiroemon Kimura will celebrate his 115th birthday, making him the oldest man alive, not to mention the oldest man to ever earn the title of "oldest man alive." He is also one of only six men in the world to live past 114. A native of Kyoto, Japan, Kimura was lucky to survive the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck his town in 1927, killing more than 3,000 people. He chalks up his long life to a healthy diet. Having retired from his 40-year stint as a postman, Japan's oldest person now spends his time watching televised sumo wrestling matches. Kimura has seven children (five surviving), 15 grandchildren (14 surviving), 23 great-grandchildren and eight great-great-grandchildren.
2. Dina Manfedini (Born April 4, 1897)
Although she was originally born in the small town of Sant'Andrea, Italy, Dina Manfedini (née Dina Guerri) moved to Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, Riccardo (15 years her senior) in 1920. She's been there ever since. During World War II, Manfedini worked at a local ammunition factory before moving on to cleaning houses until the age of 90. Together, the Manfedinis raised four children (three of whom are still alive), who went on to produce seven grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren. Although she spends the majority of her time taking it easy, Manfedini is very much a part of her religious community. She is one of the several members of the Sacred Heart Parish over the age of 100. Manfedini will turn 115 this April.
1. Besse Cooper (Born August 26, 1896)
On Jan. 31, 2011, Besse Cooper was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living person on earth. Cooper (née Besse Berry Brown) was born on August 26, 1896, in Sullivan County, Tenn., and moved to Between, Ga., in 1917 at age 21. It was here that she married Luther Cooper and raised four children. With the death of 113-year-old Beatrice Farve on Jan. 19, 2009, Cooper became the oldest resident in Georgia, and two years later, she nabbed the world record. August 26 will mark her 116th birthday.
Honorable Mention: Cubana Juana Bautista de la Candelaria Rodríguez (Born Feb. 2, 1885?)
Relatives of Cubana Juana Bautista de la Candelaria Rodríguez cried foul when Besse Cooper was named the world's oldest living person: Bautista claims that she was born in 1885, which would make her 127 years old as of February 2012. However, the GRG has its doubts about Bautista's proof. While her Cuban identification papers state that Bautista was born in 1885, Robert Young, senior claims investigator for GRG, told Fox News Latino in 2011 that the documents appear to be from the 1950s and that her birth year is more likely 1915. Young also questions Bautista's physical capabilities, primarily her ability to stand and walk with assistance. Young says there's no way Bautista would be able to walk around if she were as old as she claims.
Want to live to 100? Follow these 11 healthy habits:
"Evidence shows that in societies where people stop working abruptly, the incidence of obesity and chronic disease skyrockets after retirement," says Luigi Ferrucci, director of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The Chianti region of Italy, which has a high percentage of centenarians, has a different take on leisure time. "After people retire from their jobs, they spend most of the day working on their little farm, cultivating grapes or vegetables," he says. "They're never really inactive." Farming isn't for you? Volunteer as a docent at your local art museum or join the Experience Corps, a program offered in 19 cities that places senior volunteers in urban public elementary schools for about 15 hours a week. More from U.S. News Health: How Your Personality Affects Your Health Fight These 4 Causes of Aging What Causes Cancer? 7 Strange Cancer Claims Explained Flickr photo by Marcin Wichary
That may help keep your arteries healthy. A 2008 New York University study showed that daily flossing reduced the amount of gum-disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. This bacteria is thought to enter the bloodstream and trigger inflammation in the arteries, a major risk factor for heart disease. Other research has shown that those who have high amounts of bacteria in their mouth are more likely to have thickening in their arteries, another sign of heart disease. "I really do think people should floss twice a day to get the biggest life expectancy benefits," says Perls.
"Exercise is the only real fountain of youth that exists," says Jay Olshansky, a professor of medicine and aging researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "It's like the oil and lube job for your car. You don't have to do it, but your car will definitely run better." Study after study has documented the benefits of exercise to improve your mood, mental acuity, balance, muscle mass and bones. "And the benefits kick in immediately after your first workout," Olshansky adds. Don't worry if you're not a gym rat. Those who see the biggest payoffs are the ones who go from doing nothing to simply walking around the neighborhood or local mall for about 30 minutes a day. Building muscle with resistance training is also ideal, but yoga classes can give you similar strength-training effects if you're not into weight lifting. Flickr photo by Diamond Mountain
Getting a serving of whole-grains, especially in the morning, appears to help older folks maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, according to a recent study conducted by Ferrucci and his colleagues. "Those who do this have a lower incidence of diabetes, a known accelerator of aging," he says.
Instead of skimping on sleep to add more hours to your day, get more to add years to your life. "Sleep is one of the most important functions that our body uses to regulate and heal cells," says Ferrucci. "We've calculated that the minimum amount of sleep that older people need to get those healing REM phases is about six hours." Those who reach the century mark make sleep a top priority.
Strong evidence suggests that people who have high blood levels of certain nutrients -- selenium, beta-carotene, vitamins C and E -- age much better and have a slower rate of cognitive decline. Unfortunately, there's no evidence that taking pills with these nutrients provides those antiaging benefits. "There are more than 200 different carotenoids and 200 different flavonoids in a single tomato," points out Ferrucci, "and these chemicals can all have complex interactions that foster health beyond the single nutrients we know about like lycopene or vitamin C." Avoid nutrient-lacking white foods (breads, flour, sugar) and go for all those colorful fruits and vegetables and dark whole-grain breads and cereals with their host of hidden nutrients. Flickr photo by epSos.de
It may work for Woody Allen, who infuses his worries with a healthy dose of humor, but the rest of us neurotics may want to find a new way to deal with stress. "We have a new study coming out that shows that centenarians tend not to internalize things or dwell on their troubles," says Perls. "They are great at rolling with the punches." If this inborn trait is hard to overcome, find better ways to manage when you're stressed: Yoga, exercise, meditation, tai chi, or just deep breathing for a few moments are all good. Ruminating, eating chips in front of the TV, binge drinking? Bad, very bad.
Americans who define themselves as Seventh Day Adventists have an average life expectancy of 89, about a decade longer than the average American. One of the basic tenets of the religion is that it's important to cherish the body that's on loan from God, which means no smoking, alcohol abuse, or overindulging in sweets. Followers typically stick to a vegetarian diet based on fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts, and get plenty of exercise. They're also very focused on family and community.
Centenarians tend to live by strict routines, says Olshansky, eating the same kind of diet and doing the same kinds of activities their whole lives. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is another good habit to keep your body in the steady equilibrium that can be easily disrupted as you get on in years. "Your physiology becomes frailer when you get older," explains Ferrucci, "and it's harder for your body to bounce back if you, say, miss a few hours of sleep one night or drink too much alcohol." This can weaken immune defenses, leaving you more susceptible to circulating flu viruses or bacterial infections.
Having regular social contacts with friends and loved ones is key to avoiding depression, which can lead to premature death, something that's particularly prevalent in elderly widows and widowers. Some psychologists even think that one of the biggest benefits elderly folks get from exercise the strong social interactions that come from walking with a buddy or taking a group exercise class. Having a daily connection with a close friend or family member gives older folks the added benefit of having someone watch their back. "They'll tell you if they think your memory is going or if you seem more withdrawn," says Perls, "and they might push you to see a doctor before you recognize that you need to see one yourself."
The strongest personality predictor of a long life is conscientiousness -- that is, being prudent, persistent and well organized, according to The Longevity Project, coauthored by Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin. The book describes a study that followed 1,500 children for eight decades, collecting exhaustive details about their personal histories, health, activities, beliefs, attitudes and families. The children who were prudent and dependable lived the longest, Friedman says, likely because conscientious types are more inclined to follow doctors' orders, take the right medicines at the right doses, and undergo routine checkups. They're also likelier to report happier marriages and more satisfying work lives than their less conscientious peers. More from U.S. News Health: How Your Personality Affects Your Health Fight These 4 Causes of Aging What Causes Cancer? 7 Strange Cancer Claims Explained
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