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How Did They Do It?! Secrets of the World's Oldest People

By Edited May 12, 2015 5 13

Imagine living through Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the first telephone, WWII and the invention of the internet—all in one go. Imagine living longer than your grandchildren, or sharing a nursing home with your elderly son.

We would all love to live to a ripe old age, and with improvements in healthcare such as better nutrition, cancer treatments and arthritis information, a long life is more likely than ever. But 113? Good luck. One hundred and twenty? Fat chance. Here are the top 10 oldest people ever to live:

Kamato Hongo - 116 years, 45 days

(September 16, 1887 13 October 31, 2003)

Kamato Hongo lived on the Japanese “Island of Longeviity”—so called because of its unusual history of age recordholders. She attributed her long life to her optimistic attitude and “not moping around,” as well as her diet, which consisted primarily of pork, fish, rice, green tea and rice wine, with occasional snacks of unrefined brown sugar. Hongo was famous in the region for her unusual habit of sleeping for 48 hours, then staying awake for 48 hours. Luckily, she was able to ingest food in her sleep so her family could keep her healthy by feeding around the clock.

Kamato Hongo
Credit: theage.com

Carrie C. White - 116 years, 88 days

(November 18, 1874? - February 14, 1991)

At the time of her death, Carrie White was the oldest living person in the world. In 1909, at the age of 34, she was committed to the Florida State Hospital for the Insane by her husband, even though caretakers felt she showed no signs of serious mental illness. Regardless, White was abandoned by her family and spent the next 75 years in the hospital before being placed in a Florida nursing home, where she lived until her death.

Carrie White(56557)
Credit: Wikipedia

Elizabeth Bolden - 116 years, 118 days

(August 15, 1890 - December 11, 2006)

“Lizzie,” the daughter of freed slaves, was born on a cotton farm in Somerville, Tennessee.  She married in 1908 and bore 7 children, only two of whom were alive at the time of her death. Her secret to longevity? Family. She had 40 grandchildren, 75 great-grandchildren, 150 great-great grandchildren, 220 great-great-great grandchildren and 75 great-great-great-great grandchildren.

Elizabeth Bolden
Credit: legacy.com

Tane Ikai - 116 years, 175 days

(January 18, 1879 - July 12, 1995)

Tane Ikai was Japan’s oldest verified supercentarian. She outlived her daughter and two sons, perhaps because she ate three meals of rice porridge a day. Ikai became bedridden after suffering from a stroke at the age of 113,  and passed away from kidney failure 3 years later. She was the first supercentarian ever to undergo an autopsy.

Tane Ikai
Credit: chicagonow.com

Maria Capovilla - 116 years, 347 days

(September 14, 1889 - August 27, 2006)

Capovilla is not only the oldest South American on record, she’s also the oldest person ever to live in the southern hemisphere. She’s also the oldest person from a developing country (Ecuador) and the oldest person ever to live through 3 centuries! At the age of 116, just before she passed away from pneumonia, Capovilla was in excellent health—even walking without the aid of a stick.  She credits her longevity to never smoking or drinking hard alcohol.

Maria Capovilla
Credit: grg.org

Marie-Louise Meilleur - 117 years, 230 days

(August 29, 1880 - April 16, 1998)

When Marie-Louise Meilleur entered the world, Sir John A. MacDonald was prime minister and Alexander Graham Bell had just patented the first telephone. Meilleur, a vegetarian and “avid” cigarette smoker, died of a blood clot at the age of 117. At the time of her death, one of her sons was living in the same nursing home as her and her oldest daughter was 90.

Marie-Louise Meilleur
Credit: Wikipedia

Lucy Hannah - 117 years, 248 days

(July 16, 1875 - March 21, 1993)

Lucy Hannah was the oldest African American ever to live, but she was not the oldest living person at the time of her death! She was born in the same year as Jeanne Calment, the oldest person on record. Hannah was born to slaves, and although she was never a slave herself, she did move from Alabama to Detroit to escape the racial tensions of the South. She married and had eight children, only two of whom were alive she she died.

Lucy Hannah(56570)

Sarah Knauss - 119 years, 97 days

(September 24, 1880 - December 30, 1999)

Sarah Knauss lived through 7 American wars, 23 American presidents, the sinking of the Titanic and Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic. Knauss loved doing needlepoint and munching on milk chocolate turtles, potato chips and cashews. Her only daughter once explained her mother’s longevity by saying, “She’s very tranquil person and nothing fazes her.”

Sarah Knauss
Credit: nealirc.org

Shigechiyo Izumi - 120 years, 237 days

(June 29, 1865 - February 21, 1986)

Izumi was born on Tokunoshima, an island 1320 km southwest of Japan. He claims to have started his career in 1872, goading draft animals, and retired as a sugarcane farmer at the age of 105. He loved brown sugar sochu, a Japanese alcoholic beverage, and took up smoking at the age of 70, but he attributed his long life to “the Gods, Buddha and the Sun.”

Shigechiyo Izumi
Credit: assistedlivingsource.com

Jeanne Calment - 122 years, 164 days

(February 21, 1875 - August 4, 1997)

Calment has the longest verified human life span in history, outliving both her daughter and grandson. She became especially famous during the centenary of Vincent van Gogh because she had met him 100 years before! She even appeared in the film Vincent and Me and the age of 114, making her the oldest person ever to appear in a film. When she turned 90 and had no heirs, she signed a contingency contract with her lawyer, meaning he agreed to pay her a monthly sum of 2500 francs until she died—a reverse mortgage. That’s usually a safe bet, but because she lived so long, the lawyer ended up paying her almost double her apartment’s value.

Jeanne Calment age 17
Credit: grg.org
Jeanne Calment
Credit: grg.org
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Comments

Aug 8, 2011 9:40pm
vicrichardson
Very inspiring article. 50+ years of social security checks would be nice.
Aug 23, 2011 10:09am
MamaEarth
Isn't it very curious, or just a coincidence, that nine of the ten oldest people were females?
Aug 23, 2011 6:11pm
wordkev
Yeah, I was thinking about the same thing.
Aug 23, 2011 5:38pm
marcel
Good article. There is a book called "blue zones" that tries to uncover the secrets of those living 100+ years.
Aug 23, 2011 8:56pm
footloose
Very interesting-congratz on the featured article!
Aug 25, 2011 10:34am
simon
Thanks!
Aug 25, 2011 3:26pm
danmont
Well, women usually live longer anyway, they are smarter! Excellent article and very good research.
Aug 26, 2011 3:49pm
catgypsy
It makes you wonder how much diet, smoking, exercise, etc... have to do with it, doesn't it? I think being a calm person is the most important thing...something I'm trying very hard to become! Nice article!
Aug 27, 2011 12:54am
jcmayer777
My great grandmother lived to 106. She was still riding her bicycle around town in her nineties. I have to suspect that her level of fitness played a big role in her long life.
Aug 27, 2011 6:38am
sundijo
This is very cool. Thanks for sharing.
Sep 1, 2011 6:48pm
joystickenvy
Interesting article. I wonder if all the historic events these people lived through seemed as mundane to them as our lives do to us today.
Sep 2, 2011 1:21am
Tandrea101
lol Nice article
Sep 8, 2011 7:59am
aspen02
powerful article
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