Tuesday, December 19, 2006
A supercentenarian looks back over 112 years
Gertrude Baines, 112, is being studied to unlock the secrets of old age (Watch)Video
To look at her, you'd never know that Gertrude Baines was a day older than 80. That may sound odd, but consider this: Mrs. Baines is actually 112. That's right, 112 years old. She was born in 1894 when Grover Cleveland was president. The Ford Model-T didn't exist, and the Wright Brothers wouldn't make their famous flight for nine more years. (Searching for the secrets to a long life )Video

But to me, what makes Mrs. Baines so special is not her age, but how she has maintained her independence spanning three centuries, even when women and especially black women were considered second-class.

Mrs. Baines was born in a small town south of Atlanta, Georgia, and lived a pretty simple life. But there was nothing simple about her. She says her first real memory was of a car ride to Canada. In those days very few people ever left their hometowns. She left her country. She later married and had a daughter, who died at an early age. She moved to Ohio where she worked as a "house mom" at a state university. She eventually divorced and traveled to Los Angeles, where she retired and lives to this day.

A few months ago, Mrs. Baines was honored as the oldest citizen in California. President Bush sent her a letter, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came to visit with a plaque. She is a member of an exclusive group of people older than 110, the supercentenarians. And researchers believe that by studying these super senior citizens, they may find the secret to the fountain of youth. They're so confident, a new research center is being set up to observe people like Mrs. Baines.

When I interviewed Mrs. Baines for our story on the Supercentenarian Research Center, I expected to meet a fragile, feeble woman. Instead she greeted me in her wheelchair, wearing a fancy leopard print hat and a big smile. She didn't want to discuss airplanes, shuttle launches, civil rights, iPods or politics. Instead, she preferred to talk about her family, her loves, her heartbreaks, her faith. It didn't matter what historic events she had witnessed over the last 112 years. It was more important to her to talk about how she lived.

When I asked why she thought she had lived this long, her answer was... "God. Ask him... I took good care of myself, the way he wanted me to." So simple, but so complex. How do you extract that kind of attitude and put it in a bottle? How do you take that zest for life and make a vaccine? That's really up to the scientists who are studying Mrs. Baines and people like her. But here's a thought. Maybe long life is more than just good genes, exercising and eating well. Maybe healthy longevity depends on your faith, the way you treat people, the way you love, the way you handle bumps in the road and the way you face the day every morning.

What are your ideas for living a long, healthy life?
my comment is...that if researchers don't figure this aging thing out fast, everyone reading this is going to die soon. geez, what can be more important than preventing billions of deaths?! (millions every year!)
Aging and health as related to faith are interesting concepts. I come from a family of long-lived women, although our men are sadly not so lucky. You have to go back five generations along any branch to find a woman who did not live to at least 90, and my four times great grandmother, born in 1840, lived to 96. All of these women were persons of strong religious faith.

I also have a cousin who is at the moment, I believe, the longest documented survivor of Lou Gherig's disease, counting from diagnosis to present. She is also a woman of tremendous faith, although a far different faith than my direct ancestors, and her doctors say that her faith has played an enormous part in her continued functioning.

By these examples, and the reports of many centinarians and supercentinarians in the US, faith and a personal relationship with God are a key factor in a long life. I wonder, where does that leave me, a long-time atheist? I have the genetic history of longevity; I take good care of myself. Am I doomed to die younger than I might because I do not believe in a higher power? Interesting questions.

And, for the record, while I am strongly for antiaging research and anything that might improve quality and length of life, I hope that people never discover a key to immortality. I don't want to live forever. Just as you cannot know joy without knowing sadness, I don't believe people could truly enjoy the wonders that make up life if there was not, somewhere, the knowledge that it would end.
I am confident that there is no fountain of youth. The way to gain everlasting life is found in John 17:3 The answer to living forever is in the Bible.
To me it does not matter how long I live but it is very important how good and peaceful I feel when I live.
I will live till around 76 years of age due to the charts the doctors pull out based on my race and blood pressure. We all want to live long, so, what i decided to do is, watch and see what some of my Asian friends behaviors are. Now I drink green tea and I try to chow down of a variety of veggies. Hopefully it will give me a few more years. I watch AC360 when that lovely old lady was lifting her weights and going on her speed walks... I hope to aspire just like her. You go girl, I am following in your foot steps!
Dear Mrs. Baines is a rare jewel...there may not be a scientific explanation for her long term existence. What's obvious is that God's plan for her life just happened to be a lengthy one. Lucky us!
My idea of a healthy life is knowing yourself and having a positive attitude. Exercise and eating right keeps you going. Gertrude Baines is pretty amazing.
My father lived to be 91. When I retired and moved to OR at the age of 61, I started the 4th in a series of home-based businesses. My father was thrilled. In his words: "It gives you something to get up for in the morning." I think his words are probably a clue to real longevity.
I think it is wonderful that Mrs. Baines has had such a long and productive life. But I think there are two things we have to be careful of: faith is great but to correlate faith with good health may lead some to conclude creully that those who are ill or die young, ergo, lacked faith.It is merely a varient of the wealth-as-a-sign-of-grace mentality that is structurally exclusive. Also--DEATH IS NOT A DISEASE!
I would never want to live forever. I only hope to live well while I'm here. If it's 50 years or 150, I just hope to feel good and be productive for the duration. Whatever's next, bring it on whenever the time comes. I believe mortal lives are such a small part of eternity. I do think quality and length of life in the mortal state is mostly genes and destiny, not broccoli and aerobics. But in any case, I don't understand those who want to be 25 forever or live to be 500. Crazy!! Don't fear the next step. As Lee is Paris says, death is not a disease.
It is said there is little difference between a long life and a short one. Both are but moments in time.

Here is the most important teaching of Jesus: "The first of all the commandments is `Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Luke 12:28-34)

Gertrude Baines has been blessed by a long, holy life. The rest of us can share in this blessing, albeit with shorter lives.
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