France has produced the two documented longest-living people in world history, likely due to contributing factors like healthy dietary choices and free healthcare.
While pondering the lives and times of the oldest people who’ve ever lived, a natural question that comes to mind is how exactly one can increase his/her odds of living so long. Take Jeanne Calment for example, a woman from France who purportedly lived longer than anyone ever to age 122. She lived to such an extensive age partially due to chance, according to expert demographer Jean-Marie Robine, however, some aspects of her lifestyle contributed to her longevity.
A primary factor likely contributing to Calment’s long lifespan is that she came from a wealthy family. As such, she grew up in a nice neighborhood in the south of France. It wasn’t uncommon back then for women to wait until age 16 before attending school, where she took private classes in art, cuisine, and dance until she got married at age 20.
Another likely contributing factor to Calment’s longevity was that, coming from the upper class, she never had to work. She always had someone assisting her to cook or shop for necessities.
Calment also never smoked cigarettes until later in her life. Prior to marriage she wasn’t allowed to smoke. “It was of course absolutely forbidden, and impossible, for girls, and specifically for those in bourgeois families, to do that,” says Robine. Interestingly, Calment abstained from smoking until age 112 when she took up the habit in a nursing home.
Calment also had an active social life, having “absolutely nothing to do except to take care of herself, to visit France and have social activities,” says Robine. She attended numerous social events where she often met new people, especially since back then, people organized social balls at their homes.
Calment traveled often. For example, she traveled to the Eiffel Tower while it was under construction. She lived in a fascinating world at the turn from the 19th to the 20th century, which she had the means to explore.
|Factors Contributing to a Longer Lifespan|
|1. Low Stress|
|2. Consuming a healthy diet (i.e., the Mediterranean diet)|
|3. Abstaining from smoking and drinking|
|4. Having an active social life|
France was also home to the second-longest living person, Sister André, a French nun who lived past 118 years. Her real name was Lucile Randon, born February 11, 1904, in Ales, france. She grew up in a Catholic family and became a nun at a young age. As such, she entered the Ssiters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in 1944 at the age of 40.
Sister André spent the majority of her life working as a nurse and caring for the elderly. She was known for being compassionate and for her dedication to her work. She continued working as a nurse until age 80.
In 2009, Sister André moved into the Sainte Catherine Lobouré retirement home in Toulon, France where she passed away on January 17, 2023. She was 118 years old when she died, the fourth longest human lifespan ever verified.
Sister André was very active and engaged in the world around her. She enjoyed watching television, listening to music, and receiving visitors. She also loved poetry and wrote several poems that were published in French newspapers.
Throughout her life, Sister André remained committed to her faith and to serving others. Her unwavering dedication to her work and her community has inspired many, and she continues to be a beloved figure in France and beyond.
You might wonder what the French do to stay healthy, having produced two of the world’s oldest people. According to Robine, certain factors may give France the upper hand when it comes to living longer.
For starters, education is free in France. People with more education tend to have a better understanding of what healthy, longevity-promoting foods to eat and what exercises to do. In these ways, education can help facilitate a healthier life, resulting in people living longer on average.
Healthcare is free in France, also. Interestingly, countries with free healthcare also have some of the longest life expectancies, including France, Japan, and Denmark. In the same regard, countries with less affordable health care like the U.K., the Netherlands, and the United States have recently seen a reduction in life expectancy.
Dietary choices are better in France, with most residents adhering to the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet prioritizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and seafood, while limiting the consumption of red meat, dairy, and sweets. In comparison, Robine says in other countries, “people are eating too [much] fat and salt.”