April 21st, 2024

Common Sense Health: Work hard to be 100 and healthy

By Dr. Gifford-Jones and Diana Gifford-Jones on February 23, 2024.

Gifford Jones is celebrating his 100th birthday this week.--SUBMITTED PHOTO

Few children have the good fortune of wishing “Happy 100th Birthday” to a vibrant, healthy parent reaching that esteemed age. But that’s what my brothers and I are doing this week. We’ve had the incredible journey of growing up with Dr. W. Gifford-Jones as our dad!

Countless people have asked, what’s the secret to reaching 100? The truth is lots of people are figuring it out.

In Canada, there are about 10,000 centenarians, people aged 100 or older. In the U.S., the figure is nearing 100,000. And worldwide, it’s an astounding 722,000 people.

Some centenarians are living well. Unfortunately, there is a darker side such longevity, as many are not living well at all.

There is wide variation in the research, but a conservative estimate is that 60% of centenarians suffer from dementia, a devastating consequence for them and their families. Living through old age can be an outright punishment if mobility is impaired, leaving people dependent on assistance with daily care. Better management of chronic diseases is a mixed blessing. Is extending life worth it when quality of life is gone?

There’s no question. Following the formula for healthy aging is the right thing to do, and you know the components. If you need a reminder, read past Gifford-Jones columns. If you need motivation, volunteer your time in your local assisted living facility.

Living to be 100 isn’t the only goal. You want to get there and be healthy! So, what might be key to the success of the “escapers”, the centenarians who keep their marbles and their muscles? What sets my father apart, and people like him?

The answer might be that my father works hard at his health and everything else. If you break his life into decades, you’d have a story like this. A precocious childhood, with loving parents. An active youth, testing his mettle. In his 20s, scoring a seat at Havard Medical School. A career push into specialization in his 30s. By his 40s, Gifford-Jones emerged as an author, an advocate for a woman’s right to abortion, and a contrarian voice calling for common sense in the medical profession. In his 50s, he managed three full-time jobs – a busy surgeon, a weekly columnist, and a fabulous family man to his wife and four children. The decade of his 60s marked a period of more fighting – for better pain management in healthcare, against obesity and diabetes, and for patients to use common sense in their lives.

By 70, most people slow down. Not my father. He continued to do surgery until 75, and he saw patients in his office until the age of 87. Also in his 80s, he was writing books on alternative medicine, interviewing doctors and scientists around the world, and continuing his weekly column.

The decade of his 90s was remarkable. That’s when he began yet another new career move, formalizing his role as an advocate for a powdered form of vitamin C and lysine supplementation that allowed for easier consumption of the high doses he advocated for protection against cardiovascular disease. This decade saw him traveling across the continent speaking in community after community about his medical lessons for a healthy life.

At 100, what’s his message? “I’m not finished yet,” he says. “Stay tuned, because I have more to say and new efforts to champion in getting more people to lead healthier lives.” When, we ask, are you going to retire? “Ten years after I’m dead,” he replies.

It’s his endless hard work that sets this man apart. We’re looking forward, and in the meantime, celebrating a 100th birthday!

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