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Jeanne Calment

Jeanne Calment is a lady that has always fascinated me. Recently I did a study on super-centenarians (those that live beyond 110 years of age) and found some pretty interesting stories. For those that don’t know, Jeanne Calment is the oldest verified human being ever. She lived until the ripe old age of 122 years, 134 days. I can’t help but wonder what it is that allows someone to live to such an age in relatively good health. When she died she simply expired. She dodged the ravages of dementia, cancer, heart disease, stroke and all the other nasties that end lives well before the age that Mrs. Calment was able to live.

So in my studies I focused on what factors allowed her to live so long. Later I will outline her own advice and some advice of my own, but first lets take a brief look at Jeanne and who she was.

Jeanne Calment Had an Historical Life

Jeanne was born on 21st of February 1875 in Arles, France. She lived a happy and interesting life by her own accounts. She outlived both her daughter and her grandson. She entered the Guinness book of records in 1988 as the oldest person living. In 1995 she was declared the oldest person to have ever lived. Her life was highly documented, with more proof of her age being recorded than any other case of super-centenarian.

In 1888 Jeanne Calment met artist Vincent Van Gogh. He came into her uncle’s paint shop where she worked. She didn’t much like him, she referred to him as badly dressed, dirty and disagreeable. In 1896 she married her second cousin Fernand Calment, a wealthy store owner. His wealth allowed Jeanne to live a lifestyle free from stress and responsibility. She was able to spend her time pursuing hobbies like tennis, cycling, swimming, rollerskating, piano and opera. It was a leisured lifestyle, which as I will soon explain, is likely responsible for her living to such an advanced age.

In 1965 at age 90, with no heirs, Calment signed a deal to sell her former apartment to lawyer Andre-Francois Raffray on a contingency contract. Raffray, who was 47 at the time, agreed to pay her a sum of 2500 francs every month until she died. This is often referred to as a reverse mortgage. Raffray ended up paying Jeanne Calment the equivalent of US$180,000, which was more than double the apartment’s value. After Raffray’s death at age 77, his widow continued the payments until Calment passed away. This is a story I find rather amusing. He thought he was making a clever deal. What a surprise when she was still kicking for a further 32 years.

Jeanne‘s Long Life: How to Live Until 122

One would think that someone living to age 122 would lead an impeccably healthy lifestyle. This is not so in the case of Jeanne Calment. In fact, I have read about several super-centenarians that indulged in various “unhealthy” behaviours. Jeanne enjoyed cheap red wine and port, she ate up to a kilogram of chocolate per week and she smoked pretty much her whole life. At age 117 doctors tried to get her to quit smoking (why, I will never know). However two years later she was seen sneaking a few puffs in private. Hmmm, another life cut tragically short by the harmful effects of smoking.

Her advanced age can possibly be attributed to a few things. The first thing is her calmness and lack of worry. She often said how much she enjoyed her laid back lifestyle and never worried about anything. These days we are too introspective. We worry about how healthy or unhealthy things are which, paradoxically, seems create worse health due to the direction of focus and the subsequent anxiety it creates. Jeanne Calment never worried and just did whatever made her happy. She is reported by many as being a very social, calm and happy person. She once said “of course I’m calm, that’s why they call me calment.

Secondly it is highly likely that Jeanne had some kind of rare genetic protection against smoking. Many people will be cut short in their 40s due to smoking, but not Jeanne. She did it all her life and was never affected. This points to a genetically protected body to resist the harshness smoking reaps on the human body.

Lastly Jeanne Calment participated in low level aerobic exercise all her life with the occasional high intensity systemic load, normally due to work or lifestyle factors. There is a prominent pattern of super-centenarians living similar lifestyles.

What Can You Do?

You may not be genetically protected from harsh carcinogens, however there are certain measures you can take to reach 122, or even 100 for that matter.

  • Keep a calm mind and avoid internal and external stress. Take life with a little humour, even when things are tough. Meditate if you need to and enjoy activities that are pleasant to you.
  • Exercise consistently all your life. This can include any form of exercise, mix it up with high and low intensity, strength training, sports etc. This trait seems to be consistent with many super-centenarians. 
  • Don’t be too introspective. Meaning don’t focus on all the unhealthy things you do. If you must enjoy an alcoholic drink do it in moderation and don’t be guilty about it.
  • Keep your calorie intake about 20% lower than the typical western diet. Caloric restriction has been positively linked to longevity in numerous studies.
  • Most of all I recommend enjoying your life, just as Jeanne Calment did. Don’t worry about minor things. But most of all have no regrets. If you only live until 80 but you enjoy your life it is better than living miserably until 120.

Click here to visit the Jeanne wikipedia page.

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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons

Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Unleashed Training, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.

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