Everybody would like to live to a ripe old age, right? I mean, the alternative is, well . . . death before you’re quite ready. That’s why we all love to hear about folks like Mimi Hunter.
The Minneapolis native on Sunday celebrated her 110th birthday, joining a rather exclusive club of super-centenarians. As Liz Sawyer reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Mimi is now one of only 50 people in the world who are currently experiencing their 12th decade on this mortal plane.
We love these stories because they offer hope that we can all extend our lifespan beyond what is generally considered realistic, and they always provide practical advice on what it takes to live a really, really long life. In Hunter’s case, it’s all about a lifelong commitment to a moderate diet, exercise, and self-care — and a shot of whiskey every evening at 5 p.m.
“I’m going to live forever,” she told Sawyer.
I’ve always been fascinated by our collective fascination with the lifestyles of the super-elderly. It’s particularly curious when you consider the general lack of similarities from one to the next. Some, like Hunter, probably practiced a few very specific healthy habits; others I’ve read about were not particularly health-conscious at all. My own maternal grandfather lived to be 93 years old without developing a single habit we would recognize today as healthy. He smoked regularly and drank liberally and ate whatever he pleased.
Researchers have been trying to unlock this puzzle pretty much forever. A couple of months ago, the prestigious London School of Economics released a study that sought to explain a suggested link between longevity and intelligence. Their conclusion: It’s not about your IQ at all; it’s all in the genes.
“We know that children who score higher in IQ-type tests are prone to living longer. Also, people at the top of an employment hierarchy, such as senior civil servants, tend to be long-lived. But, in both cases, we have not understood why,” research associate Rosalind Arden said in a statement released by the school. “Our research shows that the link between intelligence and longer life is mostly genetic. So, to the extent that being smarter plays a role in doing a top job, the association between top jobs and longer lifespan is more a result of genes than having a big desk.”
Mimi Hunter is no dummy. She graduated cum laude with a degree in English at a time when only about 1 in 10 women even attended college. But, if we’re to believe Arden’s research, Hunter and her 49 other super-geezers probably have some genetic advantage over most of the rest of us, something built into their cellular structure that keeps their systems operating way past their warranty.
Because we don’t get to choose our parents — or grandparents and great-grandparents, and so on into the dank recesses of our genealogical history — we don’t have any control over the genetic cards we’ve been dealt. Our task is simply to make the most of the moments we’re given. If that happens to include a shot of whiskey tomorrow evening at 5 p.m., go for it. Mimi Hunter would approve.