Published October 29, 2001, Pawtucket Times
Just a couple of days past her birthday on July 18, 2001, Henrietta Bruce, who was officially recognized as Rhode Island’s oldest woman, passed away at the ripe old age of 110. Born in Barbados, West Indies in 1891, Bruce, one of 10 children, would later move to New Jersey and finally to the Ocean State. Ultimately she married in 1921, had a son who lived into his 80s, and in later life because very active in the Evangelical Convenant Church in East Providence.
“She was cognitive right up to her 110th birthday,” says Judy Riendeau, activity coordinator at Bay Tower Nursing Center, in Providence, fondly remembering Bruce’s ‘sassy personality.” As to her longevity, Bruce did not attribute it to good nutrition, regular exercise or genetics, Rindeau notes. When asked how she lived so long, the nursing facility resident would respond “Only by the grace of God.”
According to the year 2000 U.S. Census report released last month, there is a rapid growth among America’s centenarians. Bruce was one of 50,45 persons age 100 and over last year, and their ranks increased about 35 percent from a decade ago, said Lisa Hetzel, statistician at the U.S. Census Bureau. As to Rhode Island, Hetzel notes that today there are 278 centenarians, up 43 percent from 1990.
Why are more people living past age 100? According to writer John F. Lauerman, who with Drs. Thomas Perls and Margery Silver of the New England Centenarian Study at the Harvard Medical School Division on Aging, co-authored the book, “Living to 100,” a pcture is emerging of the typical centenarian.
Lauerman, the health care writer for the Springfield Union-News, says that people in the oldest age group tend to remain physically and mentally healthy as well as emotionally stable. Most importantly, centenarians tend to come from families in which long lives are common.
In “Living to 100,” based on Perls and Silver’s New England Centenarian Study, Lauerman notes that a good attitude is one key to living longer. “Centenarians rarely consider their age as a limitation,” he says, noting that they take advantage of the opportunity for longevity afforded to them by their genes.
Certain genes may be key to whether a person reaches age 100 and over, “but don’t thwart them,” warns Lauerman. Good health practices are key to maximizing your life, he says.
In addition, exercise resistance training, is an important factor for maintaining strength and muscle, notes Lauerman. It can also can reduce your risk for heart, disease and increase your sense of well-being, he adds.
Lauerman also recommends that you keep your mind active and investigate new challenges. Take advantage of new opportunities like second careers, volunteering, learning to play musical instrucments, writing or even traveling, he urges. Humor, meditation and low-impact exercise like the Chinese discipline of tai chi may also help get rid of stress.
As to nutrition, increase your portions of vegetables and fruits, minimize meat, saturated and hydrogenated fats, and sweets. Also, eat moderately and supplement your diet with the antioxidants vitamin E (400-800 international units (IU daily) and selenium (100-200 micrograms daily).
Making these changes doesn’t necessarily guarantee becoming a centenarian, Lauerman says, but they will allow you to llive longer and healthier, which is what centenarians do. Research reveals that one of the most interesting things about centenarians is that most of the unhealthy portion of their lives is packed into the last few years, he adds, noting that they seldom spend many years in an unhealthy state before death.
Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. This article was published in the October 29, 2001 issue of the Pawtucket Times.