Believe it or not, these men and women are all octogenarians. More astonishing still, NONE take medication. Here, they reveal secrets to defying the years…
GOOD POSTURE AND A GREAT MARRIAGE!
Jess Conrad OBE, 82, an actor and singer, lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife, Renee, 75, a retired model. They have two daughters and two grandchildren. Jess is 6ft 2in and weighs 13st (Body Mass Index 23, ‘healthy’).
When I was a boy, I watched the film Bambi and I was bowled over by Bambi’s father, this majestic stag. I told myself: ‘That’s how you need to stand, with your chin up.’ And I always have.
Posture is so important for looking good and feeling healthy.
I also try to have a smile on my face. If you seem positive, people view you more positively. You see people my age who, by the way they stand, look old — I think it makes them feel old, too.
I come from a time when British men didn’t work out the way they do now, but Americans did. I wanted to be able to open my shirt and look like Burt Lancaster in From Here To Eternity, so I started working with weights in my late teens, going to the gym and playing football three times a week until I was 75. Then it got a bit too tiring.
Now, I take my exercise playing in charity golf tournaments but, in my line of work, you expend a lot of energy — I still do concerts, sometimes twice a week.
Sunshine is really important: if the sun is out, I get outside as much as I can, even if it’s just going into the garden with a cup of tea.
Work is vital to staying young. The last time I was ill was a few years ago.
I developed pneumonia, but I was doing panto so I struggled on — when my doctor found out, he said it could have killed me.
I’ve never been a big eater and I only drink around five glasses of white wine a week. I take a multi-vitamin and turmeric supplement every day, because it has powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
A good marriage also keeps you young. I married Renee, a Dutch model who became famous as Miss Camay, 55 years ago. I first laid eyes on her when she appeared in a bath of bubbles on a TV advert!
We have a lovely life together — we go out and have lots of friends, all of which invigorates me.
EXPERT COMMENT: Jess is right to respect posture. Over time, the back curves forward, but standing straight is good for toning muscle groups, which means as an older person, you’ll be less likely to fall.
He’s also right about sunshine, which is needed for the body to make vitamin D — essential for healthy bones and a strong immune system. This could be key to why Jess has good energy levels.
Lots of older people are confined inside and don’t get enough sun.
WORKS FULL-TIME AND DRINKS VEGGIE WATER
Jan Hunt, 80, a theatre producer, lives in Surrey and has a son and two grandchildren. She is 5ft 2in and weighs 9st 7lb (BMI 24, ‘healthy’).
My mum, who died aged 92, used to wake up every day and say: ‘Thank you, Lord, for another day.’ It’s a marvellous mantra and it immediately makes you latch on to the positive, which is not always an easy thing to do.
I picked up other things from her, too. For example, if she was boiling spring greens, she would drink the cooled-down water afterwards, as it was full of vitamins that had leached from the vegetables.
I’m rarely ill — I had pneumonia 30 years ago, but have never needed medicine since then, unlike many of my contemporaries, sadly.
I don’t follow a particular health regimen — I just spend my time rushing around and that seems to keep me fit.
I’m still working full-time and can be involved with two shows simultaneously, for up to six days a week, but I love to keep busy. I could do with losing about half a stone, but I want to enjoy life, too — which is just as important as keeping in shape. So if I want some chocolate or a gin and tonic after a long day, I’ll have it.
How you look affects how you feel on the inside, too: it just gives you a boost, makes you stand tall. So, even if I’m only nipping to the supermarket, I’ll brush my hair and apply lipstick and a splash of perfume.
I was at the tip getting rid of some rubbish recently and a lady came up to me and said: ‘You’re the smartest person I’ve ever seen here.’ That really makes you feel good, which can only help with your health and positivity.
I’m also very religious about taking my make-up off at night, which I’m sure has helped give me such good skin.
Taking on voluntary commitments also helps. Sadly, I lost my sister five years ago to breast cancer — I channelled my grief into doing something positive and, last year, I abseiled the 560ft Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth for the Royal Marsden charity.
It was absolutely terrifying, but I was determined to do it.
EXPERT COMMENT: A recent study by Harvard University identified key habits that could potentially add a decade to life expectancy, including a balanced diet, regular exercise and drinking only moderately. Jan does all of these, though she might want to introduce some formal exercise such as regular walks.
The social, intellectual and physical stimulation of working or volunteering contributes to a positivity that helps both mental and physical health.
And looking good can help, too: a study by the University of Denmark found that people who look young for their age enjoy a longer life.
As for drinking vegetable water, keeping hydrated is very important for overall health.
BOVRIL AND A KICK-ABOUT WITH GRANDCHILDREN
David Hamilton, 80, is a radio presenter who lives in West Sussex with his wife, Dreena. They have five children and nine grandchildren. He is 5ft 6in and weighs 12st (BMI 27, just ‘overweight’).
I must be the luckiest person in the world, since I’ve never seen the inside of a hospital and have been blessed with good health.
However, I do help myself along where I can. First thing in the morning, I do the Daily Mail Word Wheel, as well as a crossword — a great way to get the brain going.
I eat very simple food. I love Bovril and have it most days: a favourite meal is jacket potatoes with Bovril and butter. In terms of alcohol, I only drink white wine — no more than a couple of bottles over a week.
And I make sure I go a couple of days without any alcohol at all.
I gave up smoking at 50 — I’d been on 40 a day, but I watched one of my oldest friends, a heavy smoker, die from lung cancer. The day he passed away, I threw my cigarette packet away.
I don’t take supplements, except for garlic tablets to avoid colds. And I’ve never had the flu jab.
I walk the dog a couple miles every day and, when I can, I swim. We have a pool at home and, during the summer, I swim in it all the time. I love to run around and play football with my grandchildren. On my 80th birthday, my neighbour, who is around 50, came for a celebratory drink and we ended up having a kickabout. He was the goalkeeper and I just hammered the balls at him!
Working keeps you young and I still do some broadcasting — why would I retire when I’m doing a job that I love? I’ve never been out of work since starting 60 years ago. (I’ve also written three books, including The Golden Days Of Radio One published last year.)
EXPERT COMMENT: Overall, David has a great lifestyle and it shows in his good health: keeping fit, working and eating sensibly.
Bovril is great, as it’s particularly rich in iron and B12, which are needed for healthy blood and nervous function — older people can miss out on B12, because the ageing body doesn’t absorb it so well, leading to anaemia and fatigue. But I’m concerned that David has never had the flu jab — a bad case at this life stage could be fatal.
David is also having around 20 units of alcohol a week — the guideline limit is 14, but it’s helpful that he has alcohol-free days.
Alcohol can be calorific and this may explain why his BMI is higher than it should be. That said, studies have shown that carrying 5 to 10lb above normal weight when you are over 60 is linked to living longer and protecting older adults from osteoporosis.
Active ageing is as much about the mind as the body, so doing puzzles is good. Research suggests social interaction also has a direct impact on wellbeing — learning new skills, such as a language, in a group setting helps, too.
LOVES PILATES AND ENJOYS PAINKILLERS
Thelma Williams, 84, a retired therapist and trauma counsellor, lives in Beaconsfield, Bucks, with her husband, Paul, 80. She has one daughter and two grandchildren. Thelma is 5ft 4in and weighs 9st 6lb (BMI 23, ‘healthy’).
I’ve never been a pill popper. I don’t even like taking painkillers — and I also kept this to a minimum when I had a knee replacement nine years ago.
I’m not being a martyr; I just don’t like overtaxing the system with medication.
In fact, when I had breast cancer six years ago — it was a tiny lump, so I had a lumpectomy — I was prescribed tamoxifen to stop it returning, but only took it for a week. I hated the side-effects — I was tired and aching and didn’t want to spend my old age feeling like that. My GP accepted it (I think because of my age), though I am not advocating that everyone does this.
I eat fish at least twice a week and there is very little red meat in my diet. I don’t drink caffeine, but I enjoy red bush tea.
After my first husband died suddenly from asthma aged 46, I took up sailing and aerobics. I’m a little bit old for that now, but I’ve been going to Pilates twice a week for the past 15 to 20 years and use an exercise bike every day for at least 15 minutes.
Until eight years ago, I was a volunteer for Childline. I also read a lot. It’s important to keep your mind occupied. Genes help, too — my mother died at 86 and never had a day’s illness (my father died at 71 — still a good age then).
I don’t recall having a cholesterol test and, when I admitted this to my GP, he laughed and said if I’d got to this age without knowing my readings, I was probably OK.
EXPERT COMMENT: Thelma has a good diet and lifestyle and Pilates will help increase her strength and flexibility so it is great for balance — and preventing falls.
However, having had a knee replacement after suffering osteoporosis, she should do some weight-bearing exercise — simple things such as climbing stairs or walking around the garden.
A few cups of tea or coffee a day are perfectly fine, but red bush is a good alternative to caffeine, as it’s high in antioxidants (which minimise the cell damage that may lead to heart disease or cancer) and vitamin C, which will boost her immune system.
I would never advocate a patient stopping medication without consulting their doctor, but there’s no doubt polypharmacy — taking many prescription and over-the-counter medicines — is of concern for the elderly, as there can be a risk of adverse reactions between drugs, especially if they’re not regularly reviewed.
VEGETARIAN FOR 60 YEARS AND NEVER TAKEN PILLS
Jane Graham, 83, a retired counsellor and therapist, lives in Manchester with her husband, David, 86, a retired charity researcher. They have five children and eight grandchildren. She is 5ft 1in and weighs 10st (BMI 26, just ‘overweight’).
I became a vegetarian when I married David 60 years ago — he didn’t eat meat and I didn’t want to have to cook two different meals every night.
Then I started to learn about veganism and realised that it would be even healthier and more environmentally friendly, so I have been vegan for 15 years.
I do feel I am proof of the pudding. I’ve never taken any prescription medication (or supplements) and I can’t remember the last time I saw a doctor.
David and I set up the Vegan Organic Network charity to promote how vegan food is grown. I believe this keeps my brain strong, as it’s always being challenged. I do a crossword every day, too, and love Sudoku — I do it in the middle of the night if I can’t sleep.
I’ve never been a smoker and only drink when we have friends over.
I walk every day (between half a mile and two miles), but I could do with losing about a stone.
EXPERT COMMENT: Clearly, Jane is doing something right, since she’s never taken any pills. However, as a vegan, it’s especially important she gets enough iron and vitamin B12, which is generally not present in plant products — perhaps from fortified cereals. When it comes to calories, with all diets, balance is key — be it for meat-eaters or vegans. Jane says that she’d like to lose a little weight, which would be good for her overall health.
She could also do with getting a little more exercise — she should aim for half an hour a day of moderate aerobic activity, perhaps by finding a gym class. The biggest problem at this stage of life is deconditioning, where a loss of fitness, strength and muscle bulk can lead to falls and loss of independence.
THE MAN WHO’S 93 BUT FEELS 25
Pete Murray OBE, 93, is a widower and former broadcaster who lives in London. He is 6ft and weighs 11st (BMI 21, ‘healthy’).
I recently read about a chap who is legally trying to change his age from 69 to 49. I know how he feels: in my head, I’m 25. I never think about being old — it can be so ageing.
I’m proud I’ve got here without taking a single pill. I have good genes on my mother’s side — she died three months shy of her 100th birthday. (Sadly, my father passed away at 44 from a complication of being gassed in World War I.)
Admittedly, I can feel my muscles getting weaker, but I try to combat that by staying active. I play nine holes of golf a couple of times a week (I use a buggy to get around) and walk up and down the stairs at home — my house has four storeys.
A lively mind is also important: I enjoy crosswords, seeing friends and going to social events. I am teetotal — I come from three generations of publicans and just cannot stand the smell of alcohol. I was pescatarian from a young age but, about eight years ago, I suddenly went off fish, too.
EXPERT COMMENT: To reach 93 without taking medication is quite remarkable.
And avoiding alcohol can only benefit health — consumption has been linked to weight gain, cancer and other health issues.
Social interaction and general mental stimulation are likely to assist in delaying the onset of memory decline, too.
Pete could make a few tweaks. He needs to get enough iron and B12 for healthy nerves and blood cells healthy, so might consider a supplement.
And he could try a little more walking on the golf course, rather than using the buggy.
It’s great that Pete feels younger than he is — a study from Seoul National University in Korea found elderly people who feel younger than their age had younger estimated brain health, too!