Dare to Be 100: How Old Is Old?

07/09/2013 01:37 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2013

To be 500 is not old if you are a tree. But for us humans, a different calendar applies.

A good place to start in addressing this question is to reflect on the oldest person on record. This would be Madame Jean Calment of Arles, France. I have a copy of her birth certificate in my office, 122+ years. She is the oldest authenticated person who has ever lived. Other challengers are trying to catch up.

To be 120 is a good ruler because it divides itself into fractions. Young is birth till 40. Middle age is 40 till 80. Old age starts at 80. It lasts till it's over.

These eras can be further subdivided into zero to 20 which is young young, 20 till 40 is old young, 40 to 60 is young middle, 60 till 80 is old middle, 80 till 100 is young old... You get the rest.

I am now 83 years young old. This doesn't feel so bad. I am clearly not young any more, maybe still pretending to be middle for a bit longer. Old old doesn't start for another 17 years. In the meantime I will keep running marathons.

I have a friend named Dr. Steve Cole of UCLA. Steve is the designated chief of the important international Super-Centenarian Registry. His group of far-flung scientists makes it their business to aggregate anyone in their purview who is over 110 years of age. Being a mere centenarian is rather trivial these days, but anyone over 110 still gets attention.

A year ago I asked Steve to lecture for my Stanford continuing education class on his studies. He did so with great distinction. He brought many slides of his subjects. The take-home message of his presentation was: "You don't want to be a supercentenarian."

Their portraits were shriveled, wasted, and desiccated. They brought back Rene DuBos's term "medicated survival".

One big problem with our new calendar is that the first two-thirds are well-chronicled. Our last third is still largely unexplored. Each day is an experiment.

So it remains for the rest of us on this side of supercentenarianism to make the best of what
we've got left. CARPE DIEM! When we let life run out of time then time runs out of life.

Live each day fully.

After 100, life becomes negotiable.

For more by Walter M. Bortz II, M.D., click here.

For more on aging gracefully, click here.