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Eleanore still does crunches; Astrid, at 100, puts in a 40-hour workweek
Age is often seen as an enemy to be battled or outwitted -- never mind that it's impossible to avoid and that the alternative to growing older is, well, dying younger. But when you talk with people who are nearing or have reached the century mark, still vital, you realize that they have not by running for hours a week on a treadmill, downing vitamins by the handful, or spending their free time in the plastic surgeon's office. They've been too busy living -- working, traveling, engaging in creative pursuits, spending time with friends and family, doing with gusto whatever it is that gives them joy. Lynn Adler, founder of the
In the portraits that follow, you'll see those qualities in spades. While there is no guarantee that following the example set by these folks when you're young or middle-aged will help you live a long and rich life, doing so will certainly make the journey more enjoyable. So find work or a vocation that inspires you -- paying or not -- and keep doing it rather than abruptly retiring. Be moderate in your eating and drinking. Move the body that you have. And reach out to people around you of all generations. "Being part of one's community," says Adler, "is really important."
Eleanore Miller, 91
Every Monday at
That's not to say that Miller -- like most everyone who reaches her age -- has not faced physical hurdles. She broke her hip falling down some stairs and, after a short stint in a nursing home, rehabbed it herself, at home. "I sat in the
Elsa Bhrem Hoffmann, 102
Elsa Hoffmann never imagined living past 100. "I never told anyone my age until I was 90," she says. So two years ago, when she passed the milestone, she leased herself a Lincoln and threw herself a party she compares to "a huge wedding," with 180 people and a bower of orchids. (She recently figured she'd "better act my age" and turned the car in.) These days, the Hillsboro Beach, Fla., retiree's days are filled with luncheons, shopping, and bridge. She loves to cook, and she takes care of paying her own bills. And she's just back from a cruise, with fellow members of the
Hoffmann remembers always being active, always getting together with other people, organizing parties, and concentrating on making other people happy. She took business classes after high school and worked for her father's bakery supply business. After marrying, she helped her husband with the bookkeeping at their roofing business in Westchester County, N.Y. While wintering in Florida, they opened a small seasonal resort and developed an apartment complex. They eventually retired there.
There have been bumps along the way: Her husband died, and she had a heart attack at age 68, which was treated with rest and medication (she says she's always conscious of her diet, though she believes in the occasional cocktail). Arthritis in her back has finally crimped her style somewhat. "I played golf until about six years ago," she says. In her 80s, four months after having both of her knees replaced, she "had the best golf game of my life." But her "golden years are like sparkling diamonds," she says. "Meeting people -- it seems to be as if love is radiating," she adds. "It's a great feeling."
Joseph 'José' Grant, 101
Yes, José Grant was born in 1908. But he still seems to have crammed more into his century-plus life than should be humanly possible. Inspired by an uncle who was one of the first to fly around the world, he became a pilot shortly after the First World War. When the country joined World War II, he was flying with TWA, whose four-engine planes were borrowed by the
During his travels, Grant developed a second obsession: jewelry, namely "puzzle rings," a number of interconnected bands that fit together in a beautiful design and can be insanely tough for the owner to reassemble. "I was so fascinated by them that I started making them for my friends," he says. "We used to say there wasn't a flight crew in the sky without one." He still works at his 62-year-old jewelry business in Stamford, Conn., also with his son.
How did he pass 100 still going strong? "I've always taken care of myself -- I never smoked, never drank," Grant says. "While others were having parties, I always entertained myself. We all have things we want to do." Grant says he follows no special diet or exercise plan but just stays active, mind and body. Above all else, Grant credits his late wife -- they were married for 49 years until her death in 2008 -- for making life exciting. "Ladies make our lives. Men, we're not really at our best until we find that someone," he says. Though he misses her greatly, he's still happy to be here. "I always wake up with more to do than I can do."
Marion Grassi, 92
'Everything in moderation," says Marion Grassi of Hanover, N.H., pondering the key to reaching 92. "Exercise, take care of yourself, don't do dumb things." She did, however, enjoy pretending to be a woman with "a little drinking problem" in a
Grassi, who was widowed at 46 and devoted her time to her children and volunteer activities, reads to a 98-year-old blind friend four afternoons a week -- mostly biographies and, recently, March, a fictional story of the father in Little Women, which led the friends to a discussion of slavery. "If you aren't doing something productive or for other people, why stick around?" she says. She used to do tai chi but recently hurt her Achilles' tendon, so she uses exercise machines at Kendal about three times a week for 15 minutes at a stretch, and she walks to her different activities and always takes the stairs instead of the elevator. ("I had back trouble years ago, so I am very conscious of keeping moving.") Recently, while on a weekend visit to see family in Maine, "we all climbed a hill," she says. "I was surprised when I got to the top, as were they."
Jim Armstrong, 90
It's no fun to think about growing old when you're not there yet, Jim Armstrong says. But he's glad he did. Eighteen years ago, when he and his wife realized that it would soon be tough to maintain their farm in Maine, they moved to the same Hanover continuing care retirement community that Marion Grassi chose. Planning ahead, says Armstrong, lets you "have a really good chance of building a life in the community you come into -- not just Kendal but Hanover. It's a rich environment." He's also pleased with the philosophy of Kendal. Its founding medical director, geriatrician Dennis McCullough, coined the term "slow medicine," a more measured approach to treating the aged that accepts that often, less is more. "If you have back problems, for example, there are all sorts of things you can do before surgery. You don't rush into that until you've taken your time and seen the alternatives," says Armstrong. "When you're older, your body has various ways of telling you with signals" when to pull back.
Armstrong was a classics professor at
Astrid Thoenig, 100
Don't count on getting a lecture from Astrid Thoenig on how to live to see 100. She credits the luck of the genes -- "I come from good stock." That said, there's plenty to be learned from her example about how a working life that extends far beyond retirement age can provide sustained meaning and purpose.
Thoenig always "liked figures" and wanted a career in business from the time she worked as a teenager at a bank over a school vacation. Except for periods when she was a stay-at-home mother of a young son and then another period after she was widowed and remarried, Thoenig has been working steadily -- in law offices, in accounting practices, at an import-export business. Even now she works 40 hours a week in her son's insurance agency, and this is not a case of a son humoring his elderly mother. She handles the books and double-checks calculations. Once she walks in the door, she says, "we're no longer mother and son. I'm treated the same way and have the same privileges as other people."
Thoenig, who lives in Parsippany, N.J., isn't all work and no play. She's an avid reader and knitter, mostly of sweaters and afghans -- and not the easy patterns, she points out. Going to work, she says, is enough exercise for her; she's never really enjoyed formal workouts. What is important to her is to have a purpose. "We all have aches and pains, but I don't have any time to think about them," she says. "It keeps your mind away from yourself and your little problems."
Louis Charpentier, 99
If you had driven past Louis Charpentier's house in Leominster, Mass., around the holidays, you would have been treated to quite a sight: 260-odd lawn decorations -- snowmen, little sleeping boys waiting for Santa, a manger scene -- that he has carved over the years out of Styrofoam. (The town, which calls him "Mr. Christmas," threw him a 99th birthday party in early December.) Art and design have always been a part of Charpentier's life. The first money he ever made was
For the pleasure of it, Charpentier spends two or three hours a day at woodcarving, a passion for the past 90 years. He estimates that he's made at least 200 wooden crucifixes for relatives, and once he spent well over 200 hours carving a crucifix out of a tree with a hammer and chisel. Another time, he demonstrated his carving skills at the
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Health - Aging - Sailing Past 90 With Lots Left to Do