Aging Single #2: Longevity And Super Aging

The Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life | William J. Kole | Longevity


In the second episode on the series on aging, retiring, and dying single, Peter McGraw talks to William J. Kole (aka Bill Kole), author of “THE BIG 100: The New World of Super-Aging.” Kole shares insights from his extensive research on the phenomenon of people living to 100 and beyond, discussing the implications for society, relationships, and personal well-being. They explore the factors contributing to longer lifespans, the pros and cons of a super-aging world, and the importance of preparing for this new reality. Kole also offers advice on cultivating habits and attitudes that can help us live longer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives, with a special focus on the considerations for those aging single.

Listen to Episode #211 here


Aging Single #2: Longevity And Super Aging

Welcome, William J. Kole. You’re the author of Big 100: The New World Of Super Aging.

Thanks for having me. It’s wonderful to be with you.

We should disclose this. We have the same publisher, Diversion Books.

There’s no collusion here. We’re two authors chatting.

This was necessary that we talk. It was a happy coincidence that you wrote this book, which came out. You start this book with the story of a woman in 2050, many years from now, who is merely 100 years old.

I do that because honestly, we’re going to see a lot of people around us who are 100 or older than that. We’re already seeing it. The idea is that in a few decades, this will be a very commonplace situation. We’ll find ourselves 100, and we’ll find ourselves surrounded by 100-year-olds.

The story is that she was seeking a discount and she wasn’t old enough.

This little anecdote, which is more mythical than anything, has its roots in reality. I spent a lot of time with the head of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University. It’s the largest of its kind in the world. They study Centenarians and what makes them live so long. They have many people in the study that they’ve had to turn people away if they’re not at least 103. The director told me, “These are not people who are used to being told, you are too young.”

That anecdote sheds light on the senior discounts, which are typically 65. You and I have both been approached by ARP, the American Association of Retired People, which hits you early, like 50. I understand why ARP is getting at people this early. They’re a big lobbying organization. They want as many people as possible under their tent, but nonetheless, I’m 53. I look less young, but I feel young still. I find that disturbing. I’m not going to turn down a discount if it’s freely available.

That’s called wisdom.

That’s one thing that comes with crossing the fifty-year mark for some of us. I want to ask a question about Centenarian, this 100. One thing as a behavioral economist and mildly skeptical person, or one who at least likes to question the norms, is that number special? I know it’s special because it’s three digits, but it seems to have an arbitrariness to it in a sense. It’s a sexy number, but is it a special number? Is there a more special number in your opinion?

I don’t think so. I think 100 registers with us. It’s a powerful number. Realistically, you’re right. There’s not practically speaking a lot of difference between living to say 95 and 100 or 101. In fact, I would even argue that maybe living into your early 80s, especially if you’re doing in a vibrant fashion, is a wonderful thing. In fact, the technical definition of a super ager is someone who reaches their mid-80s, physically fit and cognitively intact.

Super aging, if I understand you correctly, is what I’m going to do.

We’re all counting on it.

I get to my 80s without becoming fragile while still staying robust, physically and mentally.

Exceptional Longevity

This is important because the conversation is incomplete when we’re talking about exceptional longevity and long lifespans if we don’t have a discussion of health span right in there. That’s the amount of time that is spent in good shape, in body and mind. The alternative is unacceptable. None of us wants to be physically decrepit and God forbid, that we lose our cognitive abilities.

We’re going to return to that question because I do think that a lot of the conversation around aging is around longevity and living a long life. The folks who get media attention are still often robust.

Some are jumping out of airplanes.

This is part of a series. We’re getting it rolling. One of the forthcoming episodes I call Aging Sexy. I think those folks who are jumping out of airplanes and making art and doing interesting, compelling things, rather than just merely living. They are alive, in a sense. You open the book further by talking about how a society with many more Centenarians, with many people, super-aging will be both bright and bleak. Why? What are the pros and cons of this super aging? To me, at first blush, it seems great. It’s a triumph of humanity, technology, and our species, in a sense.

The Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life | William J. Kole | Longevity
The Big 100: The New World of Super-Aging

A triumph of medicine, technology, and the human spirit to overcome some of the things, the obstacles to living a long and healthy life. The bleakness is pretty apparent. the problem that I found early on in doing the reporting for this book is realizing that exceptional longevity is not accessible to everybody. There’s a lot of inequity there. White Americans live longer than Black Americans, about six years longer on average. Wealthy people live longer than people who are struggling to put food on the table. In fact, the upper, earning brackets live somewhere between 16 and 20 years longer than people on the bottom of the economic scale.

That is shocking, and there’s no conversation around this.

There’s that. One of the questions that burst to mind when we think about a 100-year life is, “Where are we going to find enough money to pay a century’s worth of bills?” There’s a financial piece of it. With that, we can talk about generational wealth. Many of us inherited money from our parents, or maybe our grandparents. We use that to educate ourselves, buy a home, pay for a wedding, or whatever. This may go away. We’re going to need that money if we live to 100. That’s got profound economic impacts.

The fact that we will be living longer, we’ll be theoretically consuming more goods and services, and we will contribute as well to the economy. We go on the bright side of things. The brightness that jumps out at me is more time to live, love, laugh, and enjoy the company of those we care about the most, and to do what we love to do for longer. That’s wonderful to contemplate.


Your book gives a fair balance to these pros and cons. What’s very clear to me is you’re an optimist. On balance, you’re excited by this development. I am too. I think that these triumphs are very exciting, especially in a time that feels very dark and there’s a lot of pessimism about the world. There’s a lot of data and evidence being overlooked about the good things that are happening, not just in the United States, but globally, even though it doesn’t feel that way in our social media environment. What exactly is aging? Why don’t we live forever? Why aren’t there more Centinarians in the world? We’ll build on that.

Most scientists are of a mind that we cannot live forever. Although, there are some people on the periphery of science who are suggesting, “If we can reproduce vital organs if we can 3D print a new pancreas when we need it, then why not?” There are very smart people who are projecting a not-so-distant future where that will be a reality, and we may be able to leapfrog technology in a way that allows us to take advantage of the next great thing. Vaccines are part of that. We’re doing a better job at curing and treating the things that kill us. This is why we’re living longer. Maybe it’s good to take a quick step back for your readers who might be wondering why are we talking about more people living to 100, to begin with.

Our mortality has taken a hit. We’ve had some setbacks honestly. There are two things happening that are driving, the number of Centenarians to increase rather dramatically. One is demographic, and the other is medical/technological. The demographic piece is simple. The Baby Boomers, my generation, are numerous. There are about 75 million of us. The oldest of us is in our late ‘70s. In the next 20 to 25 years, the fittest of those people will age into their 100. Just because there are many Boomers, it’s going to drive the numbers of people hitting triple digits significantly.

That’s the demographic piece, then separate from that is continuing medical advances where we are doing a much better job with cancer, for example, immunotherapy and gene therapy, things that we’re working with now have made not all, but many cancer diagnoses, not the death now that they used to be for some of us. People are overcoming and, and living with, these diseases and conquering them. That’s so much of a thing that Stanford University’s center on longevity is projecting that half of all five-year-olds alive will live to 100 because of that stuff. There’s a twin dynamics here.

Obviously, this is super exciting. At the same time, you talked about setbacks and the disparity that we have. One of the things that along racial lines, socioeconomic status lines, around gender, there are women, what is the percentage of centenarians that are women?

About 85% are women.

We’re also seeing, for example, obesity. We’ve got smoking rates dropping. We have people eating potentially better. You can have a better diet. Exercise is part of the culture, but at the same time, we now have Big Gulps, Domino’s Pizza, and food. This is reminiscent of Yuval Harari’s Sapiens where he talks about the rise of the superhuman. When we lived in hunter-gatherer times, everybody was physically alike. Maybe some people could run faster. Some people were a little smarter and on. Now we’re seeing this great variance.

Obesity is a huge problem. We still have too many people smoking in the United States. We have our problems, but these are solvable things. We’re not doomed to be overweight and to have to smoke. Just doing those two things will greatly enhance our chances of making the most of what we’ve been given genetically. That’s another piece of it. A lot of us watched the Netflix special on the Blue Zones. It is fascinating, these places on earth supposedly produce more people in their 100s. The simple fact is, first of all, they don’t. They do have larger populations of people in their 90s who are healthier than we are.

It’s a bit of a myth that they’re producing massive numbers of people in their 100s. There was no mention of genes in the whole series. Genetics accounts for a lot of what gets us to 100 and gets us there in good shape. We don’t like that because we want it to be we want to control our destinies. That’s a whole other conversation. Fortunately, there are a lot of things we can do. It’s not all genes. We know what we need to do to exercise, eat cleanly, and so forth. Even those things are not equally available to people. For example, there are people in urban areas who live in food deserts where there’s no grocery store, they’re on the lower end of the economic equation, and they are maybe working multiple jobs. Fast food is a cheap readily acceptable alternative. It’s not that they want to eat a big Mac or whatever, but it’s affordable.

As I was reading your book, I was reflecting on how on one hand we have these incredible scientists and doctors working on this problem to help cure cancer to help people to transplant organs, to keep people alive, and yet we don’t have a concerted conversation about the basics that we haven’t had that cultural shift yet. That is part of these Blue Zones in a sense. There isn’t a lot of fast food and people do stay active because it’s part of the cultural fabric of these places. I was lamenting that because in some ways, the walking, getting people to walk is such low-hanging fruit. It doesn’t happen to be profitable. I don’t know the other reasons at this point why those things aren’t happening. With this show, I’m hosting this series with the hope of getting people to be inspired about their older years, to not dread them and to start preparing for them, in a sense, because for some people, genetically, they’re going to live a long time.

I tell people that some of us are going to live to 100 whether we like it or not. We might as well make the most of it. It’s good to talk about the positive aspects of aging. In fact, some of the things that surprised me the most as I researched the book were the role that positivity and optimism play in helping us live longer. I didn’t realize how pronounced it was. There was a study done out of Yale a couple of years ago that looked at optimism and, specifically, how optimistic we are about our own individual aging journey, people who had that mindset lived on average about seven and a half years longer than people who were Debbie Downers. That’s a lot of time. That’s more time than you gain by watching your cholesterol and adjusting your diet to bring your rates down and so forth. It’s an astonishing stuff.

This is relevant to a question that a member of the Solo Community asks. They said, “At a time when on average, we’re living longer than ever, and generally living healthier for longer, what does it mean to be old?” Whilst we can’t slow down the rate, we add candles to the birthday cake, and there are arguments for embracing what I’ll call calendar aging. To what extent is it possible to delay feeling “old?”

We All Age Differently

That looks for all of us because we all age differently. We’ve all met the person who is in their early 60s and presents like a 90-year-old and vice versa. It depends on if we’re fortunate enough not to be arthritic and we’re still able to walk, run, swim, or do whatever it is that we want to do to stay active, all of that. Socially, having meaningful relationships with people is the stuff of life itself. That’s important. As long as we can enjoy each other’s company, that’s a huge part of redeeming those extra years and making the most of them. Not everybody has the same journey, and that’s the tricky part.

Some of this, for this question, because I’ve been pondering it, is that you talk about this youth-obsessed culture. Obviously, we have these genetic predispositions. There’s very little you can do to control that, but your behaviors matter a lot. Stop smoking, quit drinking, start exercising, and get connected. It’s a big theme within my community, which is that there are diverse ways to get connected, but then you’re identifying this other thing, which is how you feel about the journey. How are you feeling about tomorrow, about 10 or 30 years from now that’s there? Yet, the counterweight to this is where are our models? We are our 100-year heroes to look to because what we see on TV are young, beautiful people. They’re performing our music, and it’s very easy to feel like every candle on the cake gets me one year further away from being valuable in the world. We can’t rely on culture to do it. We have to do it within ourselves, our smaller groups, and our tribes.

On the other hand, I even in the culture, I see vibrant examples of people aging powerfully and meaningfully. I’m thinking about Norman Lear, who left us at 101. He was still writing, creating, and contributing. There’s a wonderful, social media influencer and fashionista Iris Apfel, who lives in New York, and she’s 102. She’s fantastic. She says on her bio for X, formerly known as Twitter, that she’s the world’s oldest teenager. That’s how she rolls through life. delightful, delightful stuff. I’m thinking Betty White. Betty White was like 99.99, years old. People Magazine was already out on the newsstands with, “Betty White is 100,” at the supermarket and everything then to play a practical joke on all of us, she died like a week or so before her 100th birthday, one last gag.

Do you feel like it’s shifting?

I think so. It’s all around me, and maybe it’s because I’ve immersed myself in this world of Centenarians, but I see them all around and in the community, people with extremely sharp intellects the gold standard, to aging well and being able to cross swords mentally with other people. It’s great.

I want to add one that I liked the book, and that’s Carmen Herrera. Tell Carmen’s story.

Fame and success came very late to Carmen. She had worked for many years and didn’t get the recognition until much later in life. It wasn’t until she was 89. She lived until she was 106, but for most of her life, she was working in obscurity, was a beautiful artist, and was born in Cuba. She had her complaints about what we’re talking about. She knew that the art world was infatuated with younger artists and their works, but she got hers finally. At 89, she burst onto the scene and her stuff sold and was sought after for the rest of her life. It happened, it just happened late.

The Centenarians

l most artists die too early because enjoy their fame because the good ones are before their time. They’re too early in a sense. You said you were steeped in this world of Centenarians. You could have written about anything. You’ve written about lots of topics in your life. Why this one?

I’ve always had a fascination with people in their 100s. It dates to my own family. My mother’s mother lived almost 104. She was a real dynamo in our family, a wonderful, woman with great stories. The cool thing about my grandmother was that she was born in 1899, which for me, as somebody born in 1960, I was like, “My grandmother was born in the 1800s.”

It’s a different world.

She died in 2003. Her life touched parts of three centuries and that was something that always stuck with me. She was a pianist for the silent movies. That’s crazy stuff that captures your imagination. That got me keyed into these people who live extraordinarily long lives. When I was based in Paris for AP as a foreign correspondent, I told the world about Jeanne Calment, who lived to 122 years and 164 days, the world’s oldest person, whoever lived whose age could be authenticated by records.

There is a lure of people who’ve lived 145 and things like that, but we don’t know for sure.

It’s entirely possible. There are eight billion of us and there have been many tens of billions, who’ve proceeded us. It’s possible, but we don’t have the proof. Jeanne Calment has abundant proof with Roman Catholic Church documents, French community documents, and so forth. We know that she lived that long.

I think that this New England Centenarian Project study has revealed this huge effect of genetics. Anybody reading who’s targeting a 100 knows a lot of it is outside your hands, especially if I recall correctly, once you hit 105 or 110 and then if you get to 120, the percentage is genetics.

There is an interesting aspect here, which is that our behaviors do account for about 75% of what gets us to 90. I always tell people, “You can’t live to 100 if you haven’t made it to 90.” If your ambition is to lift 100, then do something about it. What can you do? We talked about some of these things. The Mediterranean diet.

The Super Agers Diet

Let’s take our time and go through these very clearly because the series is going to cover things like finances and planning your end of life and so on. None of that matters, as you said, if you don’t get to older age. Let’s talk about diet first. What are some of the things because you get to use these case studies? You get to work backward and say, “What are the commonalities among people who are super ages?”

They do tend not to eat a lot of red meat. It’s not that there are people who break all the rules and they still reach these astonishing ages. That’s the exception that proves the rule almost in terms of genetics. They do tend to eat a diet heavier on fish, especially salmon, mackerel, and things like that, the omega, fatty acids, and all the good stuff that we know from copious studies looking at Mediterranean lifestyles, legumes and vegetables, fresh stuff, and whole grains. None of this is particularly surprising. We’ve known about these things for a long time. They do tend to eat cleanly. The interesting thing though is that there are some of these Blue Zones where dairy isn’t touched at all and others where they eat a lot of yogurt and cheese and forth. It’s a little mysterious how all that interacts.

We touched on some about removing the things that kill you, smoking and alcohol. I did a mushroom trip on New Year’s Eve. I was thinking about this topic a lot. One of the things that I was thinking about was, “What can I remove?” One of them was I like to drive fast. I’m from Jersey. I’ve got a zippy car. I’m always in a rush. It’s a little bit exciting to put the pedal to the metal, in a sense. I was thinking about that on balance, especially in a proximal way, my driving is the riskiest thing I do by far. You start adding that up over years and years and years, the cumulative probabilities of a wreck that maybe it doesn’t even kill me, but it puts me in a wheelchair. It busts up my foot and now I can’t work out. The cascading effects of these things can be quite profound.

A trait that I found many Centenarians and Super Centenarians people, who are 110 and older have in common is this ability to chill out. They don’t get stressed out. They don’t get all excited. They wouldn’t drive like you, Peter. They would leave plenty of time. You see this repeatedly in their lives and you can’t ignore it. It’s definitely a common trait. That speaks to accepting things that we can’t change. I’m in traffic. I’m not going to lose it.

Shrug your shoulder. Very Buddhist, in a sense.

Deal with toxic stress. Toxic stress is the enemy of longevity. Anything we can do to get rid of stress in our lives is going to add years to our lives and enhance our health as well.

What do you mean by toxic stress? This is something that I am trying to experiment with, which is a Sabbath. I don’t take days off in part because I’m compelled to do what I do, I like my days, and so on. This notion of a Sabbath is enticing in a sense, as a way to combat that stress. What do you mean by toxic stress?

Toxic Stress

Toxic stress would be something that affects you. It maybe upsets you to the point where it’s affecting your sleep. Good sleep hygiene is something else that Centenarians have in common, being able to get good restorative sleep. That’s not something that we’re good at in Western Culture because we go, go, go and we minimize rest. We need it. Our brains need it, or our bodies need it. I’m a marathon runner. I know the value of regeneration and resting. That’s something that stress disrupts. If it has you tossing and turning, it’s definitely, hit a level where it’s unhelpful. What happens is that scientists have shown that, stress plays out right down to the cellular level and the mitochondria in our cells.

The activities of our cells that are doing good work to replicate, repair damage, and so forth, get overwhelmed by releases of cortisol, inflammation, and all of this stuff that distracts the body. Now the body is suddenly having to deal with all that instead of doing the good work of maintaining the organism. It’s very well established that stress is deadly. Stress can mean different things to different people. I could say, “I’m stressed out. I have a work deadline.” That’s one kind of stress that my neighbor has because she is a single mother and she’s working two minimum wage jobs to feed her children is an entirely different stress. We come back to these inequities of aging.

Having food, housing, or financial insecurity are chronic stressors that a day of Sabbath doesn’t help.

From a purely personal, point of view, I was a journalist for the Associated Press for more than 30 years. I was on call all the time. I finally exited that work because I realized the stress was not helpful to me. It wasn’t even when news breaks, the adrenaline and it’s a combination of adrenaline and caffeine powers you through. It’s the anticipation of something intruding on your weekend or causing you to have to bail on your child’s school play or softball game or whatever. After a while, it’s a bummer. If I could do something about it, so I did. I don’t do that work anymore.

You have the luxury to do that. If someone works in a coal mine, they may not have an alternative. One of the things that does matter a lot is the perspective that you talked about. We want to try to control a chaotic world, a world with a lot of entropy and a world with challenges that exist. As part of that same trip, I started questioning of things, a lot of assumptions. I went down this first principles rabbit hole, forgive me. For example, the notion that work can’t be fun. Work and play are opposites. You work that then you can take time off and play.

I’m teaching. Teaching can be rather stressful. You’re on stage. There are deadlines. It’s exhausting. There’s conflict and uncertainty. A lot of the stress around teaching is the way you perceive the teaching versus what a magnificent opportunity to get to interact with young people, with curious minds to inspire and play in the classroom. The very same experience then suddenly isn’t as stressful. It’s something to look forward to, and it’s something that can be invigorating, but you have to have either that within you or you have to find a way to cultivate that perspective.

It’s interesting you should say that because that also speaks to positivity and purpose. These are things again that Centenarians have in common, a reason to live and get up in the morning. If you’re 103 or 104, you’re not necessarily working on a dissertation. Although, some do. It’s amazing. It may be looking forward to seeing a great-grandchild graduate, marry, spend time with family, read a great book, or something like this. People get up in the morning refreshed and, “Let’s see what today has for me.” That’s great that. Something as simple as that can provide meaning for people. Those who don’t have that do very poorly.

You Want A Long life, But Why?

I have a saying, “Every day is a big day,” when I got out of bed or when I was in Columbia, I said, “Grandea, big day.” I was listening to a podcast. There are all these longevity wonks, experts and bros, out there who are hacking and they’re doing all the things. They’re taking metformin and doing cold plunges. You could spend your entire day adding extra days to your life in this particular world. One of the speakers said something to me that I thought was profound, which was, “You want longevity. You want to live a long life. Why?”

I was like, “That is one of the most important questions that you can ask yourself as you consider getting older. Why do I want to get older? What do I have to look forward to? What is that purpose? What are those things?” Being able to answer that question in a compelling fashion, you’re suggesting will help you succeed in living longer.

It’s been demonstrated. People who have something to live for, something to get up in the morning, and look forward to doing, do live several years longer than those who don’t. As far as the tech bros, their stem cell treatments and all of this stuff, I take a dim view. That’s fine. It speaks to the inequity that underscores this picture. It’s a troubling picture. I spoke to an ethicist who raised some provoking questions about the moral appropriateness of some wealthy bro in Silicon Valley doing all these things and spending how much money in order to extend his life, while we have people of color. They’re living a decade or less or more fewer years than we are. It seems immoral. The rich will do what they want to do, and the world is their sandbox. Maybe something good will come out of it for humanity, but that doesn’t seem to be their motivation for doing it.

The hope is that there’s a breakthrough and clinical experience that suggests that beyond the basics, “There are no silver bullets, but here are the things that move the needle.”

To your point earlier, are we about adding years to our life or life to our years? It’s much more interesting to add life to our years and let the years we’re that we get take care of ourselves. At least that’s the way I’d like to roll.


“Are we adding years to our life or life to our years?” That’s well said. One of the things as we’re working our way through this list, some of it is on repeat is movement, moving our bodies. I’m obsessed with walking. We live in a world where you don’t need to walk if you don’t want to. You can get in your car and call an Uber. We live sometimes very convenient lives. We sit a lot. We have sedentary lives, especially for White collar folk to your point about the inequities. Are super ages big walkers?

Absolutely. For the book, I spent some time with Hurda Shouse in Massachusetts. She’s 112. She’ll be 113. Her mantra is to keep moving. There’s a farmer I mentioned in my book, in the Heartland, who is, basically America’s oldest farmer. He’s in his early 100s and he still walks his farm. He’s not doing manual labor anymore, but he’s still right on the property, calling the shots in the tractor and directing workers to do this and that. People are moving. You see this in these fabled places. We call them Blue Zones. People move. They walk. I move. I’ve run a lot of marathons and put endless miles, beat the crap out of my knees. Now I have some problems. Now I’m in my early 60s. I’m paying for that. These people are moving gently through their environments, in a way that is healthy and great for the long term. They’re getting a benefit, but they’re not beating themselves up along the way.

What about the other side of this, especially as you’re approaching older age lifting heavy things and being more explosive, playing pickleball, things that move your body in more vigorous ways?

It’s so important. I’m glad you mentioned it because this is one of my resolutions personally because I’m like one of those wimpy runner dudes who just runs and doesn’t lift. It’s important for bone density. It’s important to keep osteoporosis from developing and so forth so that God forbid we trip over our own two feet and end up broken in the hospital. That’s not good.

I’ve read some disturbing stuff about getting a broken hip over a certain age. The mortality rates, it’s like 30% of people are dead within a year.

Some people don’t even come home. It’s dreadful. It’s an incentive to take a whole-body perspective on how we take care of ourselves.

I was at the gym and there’s an older gentleman. I don’t know how old he is. If he was 80, I wouldn’t be surprised. He was in there working with a trainer, pulling the sled and doing stuff. I was moved by this guy. I came up to him. I said, “Good work.” I could see this is very challenging for him. He has some physical limitations but talk about someone who’s looking to add life to his years. That’s inspirational because where are the 80-year-olds in your gym? Some of it is cultural like this is a generation that didn’t grow up. Your generation started jogging.

In the ‘70s, it is Running Boom and all of that.

Now we have CrossFit, Orange Theory, Power Lifting, and all these things that people can find their niche.

When it comes to movement, there’s no limit almost. A woman I talk about in the book is Julia Hurricane Hawkins. Her nickname is Hurricane. She’s 105.

That’s a sexy name.

She sets world records on the track for 100 meters. It takes her a minute and a half to get to run down 100 meters. She’s not Usain Bolts, but she’s doing it and it’s absolutely fantastic and inspirational as hell.

If you want a good cry, go on YouTube and search for these 99-year-olds doing the 100-meter dash. One thing that is you mentioned sleep, eating, and then movement, and how you can’t have one without the other. It’s very hard to sleep well if you’re overweight. it’s very hard to work out in a vigorous way if you don’t eat well. These things are all so closely connected that it’s like three legs of a stool in a sense. If you don’t have one, the other two don’t do as well in that way.

As people are contemplating planning inspired by this conversation, I urge them to think about those three together and to prioritize them because culturally, you and I are in the United States. We have are very American focus with this conversation. This is culture. It’s ambitious and consumeristic. It’s this sleep when you’re dead. It’s put off these things because you’re building, making, and buying. Maybe it’s a matter of throttling down some of those if you have the luxury of being able to do that to the point about these inequities in order to start training for 80 or 90.

If we’re going to have a greater likelihood of living that long, we want to get there in good shape. There’s every incentive to take care of ourselves. We started this conversation by acknowledging there are bleak aspects and bright aspects to 100-year life. We want to end up on the bright side of the ledger, if at all possible. Doing some simple things now can help ensure that we make the most of it and we get there in good shape.

Let’s talk about having other people there with you because this is something that you’ve already talked about. Even this Cuban painter who worked in her Manhattan apartment for all those years, I can’t imagine that she was completely isolated. I’m sure she had large swaths of time dedicated to her work, to the solitude of being an artist, but I can’t imagine that she wasn’t connected.


It’s important to be connected. We have a loneliness crisis. It’s a public health crisis. The US Surgeon General declared it such. The National Institutes on Aging says that prolonged isolation does to our bodies what alcoholism and obesity do. It is the equivalent of smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, which is a lot. That’s a lot of cigarettes. Even can take as many as fifteen years off of our lives. This is because we’re not connected with other people. We have to be connected for ourselves. Out of our own humanity, we need to try and connect with others and seek them out wherever we can.

I’m thinking about people in rural areas, particularly, who are growing old and they’re isolated. You can be desperately lonely in New York. We have to be conscious of the importance of connecting with each other. That’s interesting because we live in an age, arguably, of unprecedented connection in terms of social media and all of that. That’s fine. For some people, that’s a lifesaver. There’s no substitute for face time. I don’t mean the FaceTime on your phone. I mean actual face time.

I often say instead of sending that text, make a call. Instead of making the call, meet the person, because we are so connected. It can be easy to keep it shallow. The more intimate the connection, the better it ends up being. I want to ask about this because with people living longer, there are many reasons why we’ve seen a rise of singles globally. Readers know the stats already. Half of American adults are unmarried, 28% live alone, similar rates for people over 65. Because of this gender disparity, even people who are married, half of them will end up spending a significant portion of their later years single again because their partner dies and they outlive their partner. I’m often very concerned with our model of marriage, not just in the United States, but worldwide because it is isolating.

You have a partner. You have someone you know, to share a bed with and all those things, but if that person divorces you, dies, and if you’ve put all the eggs into that basket, you can be adrift. You can suddenly find yourself isolated. Some singles, on the other hand, have the problems that you’ve described, which is this deep isolation. They have no friends, but many of them, and on average, they have more friends than married people in part because they have more space for friends, and they have the recognition that they need friends and connections out there in the world. As I was reading your book, I was thinking a lot about this, is that if you live long enough, you outlive all your friends. If you’re not careful about cultivating new friendships and friendships with younger people. Is that something that you found with the super ages that they have Absolutely. Like age diversity in their friendships?

Yes. First of all, even for people who have a great marriage, if they are married, it’s often that they outlive their partner. We talked about Jeanne Calment of France, the oldest person who ever lived, 122 years. Her husband died when he was 45. They went on a picnic. He, they had spoiled cherries as part of their picnic. He got botulism and he died.

What a way to go.

Think about another 60 years of life without her husband. She never remarried, but she was surrounded by people. She had a delightful personality. She was snarky. She was funny. My favorite quote was, “I only have one wrinkle, and I’m sitting on it,” which is extremely funny. She said that at 121. That’s pretty funny.

That’s a good comedy.

She used to say that she stopped wearing mascara because she was laughing so much. She would cry it off all the time. She wasn’t laughing by herself. She was in the company of other people. Even people who pair up can find themselves unmoored and alone either by design or not or by death, then what do you do? It’s interesting. The woman I spent a wonderful afternoon with the almost 113-year-old had a similar experience. She lost her husband many years ago. She attends church every Sunday and goes out to eat with a group of other women. A lot of them are in their 40s and 40s. She’s got friends who have a little more tread on their tires than she does. She won’t run out of friendships. I think that’s a beautiful model for us to pursue.

My dear friend, Darwin, I talk about him on the show on occasion, his mom, Mama Metzker is in her mid-70s. She turned 75. We went and did high tea in Denver at the Brown Palace if people are familiar. She has what she calls a bunko group. They meet once a week and they play this dice game. It seems weird that a bunch of women in their 70s would play dice, but it’s a reason to get together. These ladies were sexy. They were flirting with me. They were fun. they knew about me because they had heard these stories. It lit me up to spend time with them because you could see their affection for each other. You could see their liveliness. They had this regular thing to look forward to that they will continue to do indefinitely. It doesn’t have to be super heavy-duty stuff. It can be fun rolling some dice with your girlfriends.

Studies have shown interestingly that people who are married do tend to live a little longer, a few more years than people who don’t marry, but they’ve also found that deep platonic friendships have the same effect. In fact, marriage can be life-taking. There are people who are in miserable marriages. That takes us back to our earlier discussion about toxic stress. If you’re in a combative marriage, that’s not extending your life or adding life to your years either.

If your toxic stress is in the same bed as you, it’s a problem.

Exiting a marriage like that will probably add years to your life and not take them away. It’s interesting. In the book, I talk about a couple. He’s 100 and she’s 101. They met in a nursing home. They read poetry together. They switch rooms in the evenings after the community dinner and read verses to each other. Their friendship is based on poetry. What could be more beautiful than that?

Rapid Fire Questions

Let’s finish with a few more Rapid-fire questions. Some of them are going to be about you. About this couple, what’s sex like for the super ages? Asking for a friend.

There’s a retirement community in Florida called The Villages. It’s quite large. By all indications, they’re having more sex than most of us. There are higher incidences of STDs in that community because people have multiple partners. I’m not advocating that that’s the outcome here, but clearly, they’re sexually active and fulfilled. These are people who are in their 80s and in some cases, maybe older. We live in this ageist youth-obsessed culture that implies that part of our life ends at some point. For many people, they’ll say, “Over my dead body, it does.”

Especially now these little blue pills and so on can help. This is building on what we’ve already talked about, which is you are robust. It’s very hard to be having sex when you’re 90 if you’re not robust, but I could be wrong about that. I’ll let you know, hopefully.

The idea here is that life can be full and complete deep into our journey. That’s something else on the brightness side of the ledger.

I think that’s a reason for optimism for some of us. What about the promise of AI and robotics? One of the things that is going to be very clear, especially with the Boomers getting older is, “Who’s going to take care of them?” You already mentioned how you finance a life to 100. We have issues around social security, Medicare, and Medicaid, there’s going to be a boom in nursing homes and elder care and on. What are your thoughts about this AI revolution that’s undergoing?

We’re engaging in a lot of hand-wringing about AI, and in some aspects, rightly so, but this could be an area where AI is of tremendous use to us in helping care for us and helping monitor our well-being. We have a caregiver crisis in the United States. We don’t have enough people to do the work. In fact, in the book, I argue for a sensible immigration policy to help solve that. We have people who are desperate to come here, work and make a life for themselves. We have jobs in these areas that people don’t want to do. Why can’t we put those two together and fix that problem?

It’s probably not something that’s going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, AI and robotics, Japan is doing some fascinating things in this area using robots, and we’re starting to see it a little bit in the United States, to remind seniors to take their meds, and then to interact with them in conversation, even playing simple games, things to keep them mentally sharp and so forth. On the bit darker side, to monitor their vitals. Japan has the oldest society in the world. There are people who are dying alone in apartments and this is a way for the authorities to get a heads up that something’s wrong so that people aren’t alone like that.

My mother was prematurely aging, and she almost died of dehydration at one point. She was lucky that a neighbor was like, “I haven’t heard from Kathy in a while.” Having that check on someone is valuable because she went on and lived many years after that incident, but that almost ended her.

There may be limits to what we can expect from robots. There isn’t a robot that I’m aware of yet that can safely hoist a 140-pound person on and off the toilet, for example. Let’s face it, there’s no substitute for the milk of human kindness and for actual human interaction.

As a supplement. Let’s talk about you. You were a smoker.

About many years ago.

Do you want to live to 100?

I took a test at the New England Centenarian Study. It’s a calculator. I put my bonafide through it, and it spits out a result of 103. That’s maybe based on the fact that my grandmother lived almost to 104, but it also is based on lifestyle factors. I did smoke for a time when I was traveling extensively and working as a foreign correspondent.

That’s the romantic reporter living in France

The Humphrey Bogart kind of thing.

It was a different time.

I was working in Eastern Europe where kids are born practically with a cigarette. It was not wise. Honestly, prior to that time in my life, I was an athlete. I ran distance at Boston University. I went back to that. The human body has an incredible ability to repair itself. I wish I never had smoked, but I’ve run a couple of marathons in under three hours since. I’m in good shape. My message and encouragement to anybody, and my position is, “If you’re still smoking, for heaven’s sake, stop. You may be delightfully surprised at how much your body will repair itself.”

You are talking about the assumptions that we have. One of the assumptions is that life gets worse. That assumption’s not necessarily correct. Life can get better. My own personal thing is that for the first time since I was fifteen years old, my body is largely pain-free. If someone had told me many years ago, that at at 53, my body would feel better than it does when I was 25, I wouldn’t have believed them. I had to believe that my body could feel that way in order to get to that place. According to this projection, you’re going to live to 100. How do you feel about that?

Since I wrote the book, I feel obligated to live to 100 with one of my friends.

What an obituary.

I can’t be like James Fixx. Remember James Fixx? He was the running guru. He wrote The Complete Book Of Running in the ‘70s in conjunction with the Running Boom where everybody started jogging. He dropped dead on a country road in Vermont while he was running.

He died doing what he wanted.

He was much too young. I feel it’s my journalistic obligation now to live to 100, but also out of pure journalistic curiosity, I’d love to live to 100, provided that I have my cognitive abilities intact. That’s a non-negotiable thing for me.

One of the things that I think is exciting for you is that think about how many books more you can squeeze out of this life if you live to 100.

There’s lots that I know you want to do, and there’s lots I want to do professionally and personally.

Who knows by then, maybe you’ll write a sequel called The Big 200. I appreciate you writing this lovely book and appearing here and helping our series on aging.

Thank you. May you live 100 years.



Important Links