Is it healthy to live Pass 100?

Interview: How do you get old and stay healthy? "Watch out and live!"

Mr. Brinkbäumer, you and your colleague Samiha Shafy have visited 50 centenarians all over the world. In your book “The clever, funny, healthy, unrestrained, happy, very long life - The wisdom of centenarians. A trip around the world “we get to know them. Do you want to be a hundred yourself?

Klaus Brinkbäumer: If my life is self-determined and I am not a need for care, then yes. Most people probably have this wish. Incidentally, many centenarians also say this when you ask them whether they want to be 110: If it stays that way, then yes, but not if I become a nurse.

The Japanese island of Okinawa, which you also visited, is known for having a large number of centenarians. But where else in the world can you get really old?

Brinkbäumer: In many places. There are five so-called “blue zones”, i.e. areas where an above-average number of very old people live - these include Okinawa, Sardinia, Loma Linda in California, Costa Rica and the Greek island of Ikaria. But that doesn't mean that you can only get very old there. A warm, but not hot, climate is helpful. Heat and light are healthy for the human body, but extreme cold is just as unhealthy as extreme heat. A warm, mild climate also means that what is healthy grows: vegetables and fruit in all variations - and nutrition is also crucial in aging. A mild, pleasant climate also ensures that people are outside a lot and move around.

Diet, exercise, it is known that these are two points that are important for healthy aging. But which factor surprised you?

Brinkbäumer: Oh, I've been surprised a thousand times in this research. For example, from the meaning of the Japanese word ikigai.

Ikigai means our passion, our calling, what fulfills us in our life ...

Brinkbäumer: Exactly - the job is also part of it, at least it should. And Okinawan people say ikigai doesn't stop at 63, 65 or 67 years old. If you then think about how and when people in our western society are going to retire, you can tell that something is going wrong here. Because when you retire, you take away many people's circle of acquaintances, what loneliness can mean, and also a large part of the meaning of their existence. Both are extremely counterproductive.

What else was new for you?

Brinkbäumer: I wasn't aware of how important relationships are for a happy, long life. Scientists at Harvard have shown in long-term studies that relationships, i.e. love relationships, relationships with children and grandchildren are literally vital.

But there are a lot of very lonely people in our society.

Brinkbäumer: Yes, loneliness is common. But it is important to know that it is not necessary to have a spouse. Friends are important too. And so it was downright shocking for me to experience that, above all, many old men say: Where are my children actually? Where are my grandchildren Where are my friends from before? And many come to the conclusion: I screwed up myself to develop a warm relationship with them because I was always working. You can feel sorry for these men. Especially since scientists have come to the conclusion that loneliness kills. In this sharpness, this was also new to me.

And what do women mainly regret?

Brinkbäumer: Many of the centenarians regret that they did not seize enough opportunities in their job, that they paid too little attention to education, that they fought too little for their own advancement.

Well, we have it in our hands: You write that our life is only 30 percent predetermined by genes, 70 percent we can influence ourselves - what do you do differently now?

Brinkbäumer: I haven't changed anything radically. But I changed a few things slightly: I had already been eating quite healthy before this project. Now I pay more attention to it. I generally eat less and, above all, less meat, but different vegetables and fruits; and I drink even less alcohol. I started from scratch with yoga. I used to - like so many men - dismissed that as Eastern esoteric stuff. Today I feel good physically and mentally. And at one point I was confirmed: What I've always paid attention to is doing with passion what I really enjoy: writing or sailing, for example. Basically, I knew the meaning of ikigai, but I didn't know the word for it.

It is also interesting that many very old people were not aware of how quickly life goes by. The centenarians say: If I had known how quickly even a long life can go, I would have used it more sensibly.

Brinkbäumer: We have heard that from a great many. They usually say this with a laugh, because they know they really had a lot of time - and yet they regret that life has passed so quickly. Roger Angell, for example, a well-known journalist who lives in New York, remembers his childhood in Manhattan, including New York in 1930, and says: It was all yesterday.

What is your conclusion from this?

Brinkbäumer: To adjourn as little as possible, to live today. In general, if I had to take stock of our experiences, I would say: watch out and live! Bring the two together. Because we know: some people manically take care of their diet and their bodies - and forget to live. Others try to take everything with them, take drugs, do extreme sports, but often only take very limited care of themselves. Finding the balance between the two is, I think, the secret.

Now you got to know wonderfully colorful personalities. Who impressed you the most?

Brinkbäumer: I don't really want to put up a ranking list here. So a spontaneous list: two Chinese in Beijing were sensational because they led me through the entire Chinese century. What a journey back in time! And learning from them how they view the rise of China and the decline of the West was spectacular for me. But also the 111-year-old, who never left the jungle of Thailand, was wonderful. She gave us the image of the elephant for marriage: The man forms the front legs, sets the pace and direction. The woman stands for the back legs, she walks with them and makes sure that the elephant does not stumble. What a beautiful picture, even if I don't think that this is still a suitable recipe today for turning 100 years old together.

And at 98, Hilde Hefti always dances from midnight to two in the morning ...

Brinkbäumer: Hilde Hefti is also one of the very impressive people. She is so headstrong, has so much vitality. And of course Roger Angell. He impresses with his ability to reflect, also with his lack of fear and taboos. Take the subject of sexuality in old age.

A difficult topic for sure ...

Brinkbäumer: Many don't want to talk about it.

But you can still fall in love at 100, write ...

Brinkbäumer: Yes sure. But this is a topic that many older people have told us that many younger people turn up their noses. From the point of view of many younger people, a love relationship may not be part of dignified aging. We have seen again and again that the death of one's partner was mourned deeply and for a long time, especially after very long marriages. After that, it must be allowed to fall in love again - even if the remaining time may be short.

They didn't just visit happy old people. A couple in Wolfsburg, for example, was already marked by many ailments and preferred to be dead for many days. Many in this country are afraid of getting old. What do we need to change?

Brinkbäumer: Okinawa comes to mind: there is no old people's home up there in the north. The elderly live in their families and are integrated into their village communities. Western societies cannot achieve that. But we need to think about how we can prevent old people from being lonely, from being deported to homes. Of course, we must also ensure that the salaries of the nursing staff are such that the tremendous achievement is recognized.


Care is a huge issue.

Brinkbäumer: But care, old age and death are still taboo for us. It is possible to grow old happy, joyful, funny. It works elsewhere. You can grow old with more dignity than what happens in large parts of Germany. And our care system is not prepared for what is still to come.

To person: Klaus Brinkbäumer, 52, was editor-in-chief of mirror and today writes for The time. He is a book author and filmmaker.