Jeanne Calment, the longest living person in recorded history, was witness to a myriad of historical events throughout her 122 years on Earth. Born in 1875, Calment, of Arles, France, saw the construction of the Eiffel Tower, experienced two World Wars (one under German occupation), and was around for the creation of the telegraph, telephone, television, and the internet before she passed away in 1997. But what was Calment's secret to a long, healthy life? Was it exercise? Was it a healthy diet? The truth is just about as hard to believe as Calment's historic age.
According to her obituary in the New York Times (yes, the New York Times wrote an obituary for a relatively unknown French woman), Calment used to eat more than two pounds of chocolate in a week, used olive oil as a skin treatment, and was a daily smoker until she was 117 years old. The supercentenarian also rode her bicycle around her small French town until 100 years old.
So, what is the key factor that led to living for over a century despite some less than healthy habits?
Public health researcher Jean-Marie Robine interviewed and studied Calment to try and understand just this. It seems the answer might just be a lack of stress.
"I think she was someone who, constitutionally and biologically speaking, was immune to stress. She once said, 'If you can't do anything about it, don't worry about it,'" Robine told the Times.
It's amazing she lived through so many monumental life events and stay so good-humored. Besides the changing cultural, political and technological tides, Calment outlived her whole family. Her husband (a cousin) died of spoiled cherry preserves when he was 46, and despite eating the same preserves, Calment did not succumb to death. She then outlived her only daughter, who died of pneumonia. She went on to take care of her only grandson, who died in an automobile accident in his adult years.
Despite this, Calment stayed strong, active, and retained her amazing sense of humor. She was well known in France for her witty sayings, such as: "I've never had but one wrinkle, and I'm sitting on it." With a sense of humor like that, maybe it's not so shocking that she lived so long.
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