WASHINGTON, April 5 (UPI) -- How can you live to be 100? Take a lesson from someone who pulled off the trick, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother of Britain who will be buried Tuesday after finally passing on at the age of 101.
In a world filled with quacks and crackpots, the best guide on how to achieve longevity is to look at that select minority who have actually pulled it off. Even in this category, the old Queen Mum stands out. She never became senile, never suffered from Alzheimer's disease and never lost her good humor or great capacity to enjoy life. In the study of how to achieve an exceptionally ripe and also rewarding old age, her example is a good place to start.
Getting good medical care obviously helps, but privilege is not all it is cooked up to be. Elizabeth's hard drinking, hard loving and hard living daughter Princess Margaret predeceased her, by a few weeks and notched up an impressive 70-plus herself. While a tribute to her natural strength and stamina, that is obviously nowhere near nine decades of life, let alone ten. And the Queen Mum's late husband King George V died in his early 50s.
Living a life of privilege does not guarantee a long life, just as living poor does not guarantee a short one. Most recent cases of centenarians in the United States, Britain and France are indeed people from modest working or middle class backgrounds.
Allowing for the inevitable workings of accident, wars, general environment and chance, certain factors stand out to begin with. First, cut out tobacco, preferably in general but certainly cigarettes. Even for the strongest constitution, they are usually deadly.
Winston Churchill's cigars are a misleading example in this area. Churchill lived to past 90 and boasted of his hard-living, roistering ways.
But although he loved to fondle and play with his cigars, he chewed them rather than drew on them and he seldom, if ever, inhaled.
The Queen Mum did not smoke. Her daughter Margaret did and her husband George VI smoked incessantly to handle the crushing burdens of the Throne. And he died of cancer a full half-century before his wife did.
Alcohol should not be avoided but embraced -- with the very large exception of beer. Cirrhosis of the liver brought on by alcoholism has claimed millions of lives prematurely, but hard liquor or wine taken regularly in moderation often features in the life styles of centenarians. Here again the Queen Mum is a striking positive example. For decades she was described as the greatest living advertisement the gin industry of Britain ever had.
Doctors and health specialists always emphasize the importance of positive temperament and good humor as essential to living long and happy lives. And here again, we find that the Queen Mum fits the pattern. Like former President Ronald Reagan all her life she fulfilled the injunction of the classic Swing Era song to "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative / And watch out for Mr. In Between."
Do not retire, ever. It will be fatal to your hopes of making that Big One Double-O. The Queen Mum maintained an active public engagement schedule to only a few months before she died. The late George Burns, who also cleared 100, was determined to star on stage in London to celebrate the event and was extremely disappointed that he narrowly couldn't quite make it.
Burns, in fact, came out of an involuntary and forced retirement when, already in his late 70s, he replaced his lifelong friend Jack Benny on the latter's death to star opposite Walter Matthau in the classic 1970s movie "The Sunshine Boys." He won an Oscar for his performance and enjoyed a flourishing movie and TV career for the next two decades on the strength of it.
Here a comparison between the Queen Mum's two daughters is instructive. The younger, Margaret, after her early passionate love affair with Group Capt. Peter Townsend was cruelly and stupidly broken up, spent the rest of her life as an aimless hedonist ricocheting from one miserably failed relationship and experience to the next. Her body was burned out along with her spirit long before the lingering embers of both finally passed on. By contrast her elder sister, Queen Elizabeth II, remains at the peak of health and mental alertness in her later 70s.
Obviously, try and avoid obesity. There are few, if any 300-pound centenarians in history. Even the Guinness Book of Records does not keep figures on that. But you don't have to be as skinny as a rake either. Churchill and the Queen Mum were both famously plump for most of their lives. It did not appear to do them any harm. And, most revealingly, neither of them were vegetarians or food faddists. Churchill once famously noted that all the health food nuts he had known had died young of softening of the brain.
But take lots of vitamins. They really do work. Especially the King of Vitamins, Vitamin C. Double Nobel Prize-winner Linus Pauling, who did breakthrough research in this area, lived into his mid-90s to prove it.
Look after your health sensibly. See doctors regularly, especially for regular check-ups. Preventive medicine in the United States has made phenomenal strides over the last 30 years. Your chance of surviving many forms of cancer, diabetes and heart disease are now extremely high -- provided they are diagnosed and caught early. If you come across paranoid crackpots who say regular doctors are evil or useless or both, kick them out of the door. Being hypochondriac usually helps too. The Queen Mum and George Burns both took good care of themselves.
Stay active. This is crucially important. The advent of the automobile in 20th century American life may have been the greatest factor against enhanced longevity second only to smoking cigarettes. Walking is an ideal exercise to keep strokes, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes at bay. It was not for nothing that Jesus in the Gospels famously advised one longtime invalid, "Pick up thy bed and walk." And Gen. George S. Patton warned that the most dangerous place in the world is your own bed. More people die there, he said, than anywhere else.
Here again, the Queen Mum meets the standard. Energetic and athletic all her life, she especially loved to dance and do Scottish reels even into her 11th decade.
Embrace your family and if you don't have a family, embrace your friends. Emotional support, love and just being the beloved center of attention work wonders. The Queen Mum and George Burns both loved to tread their respective stages all the many days of their long lives.
Many centenarians who have outlived their husbands, wives and even their children have continued to thrive in homes for the elderly where they are regarded as star advertisements and living examples to others. Famously, they look forward to their birthdays, Christmas, Easter and other seasonal holiday celebrations where they know they will be the center of adoring attention. Being cherished and spoiled is as magical for the very, very old as it is for the very, very young.
None of this guarantees anyone automatic longevity. But if passing cars, nuclear weapons and biological warfare spare you, these principles will help you weather the rest. Good luck on the long march. Apply these principles and at least a handful of you readers out there are going to make it, just like the old Queen Mum.