Posted on 29 September 2021
As Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an American sociologist, politician, and diplomat once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”. And we wholeheartedly agree. A shared set of facts is the first step to building a better world with longevity for all. In that spirit, we are creating a series that covers 101 indisputable facts about ageing, health and longevity.
The longest living person whose dates of birth and death have been verified is Jeanne Calment, a French woman who lived to the age of 122 years and 164 days. She was born in 1875 in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence, and she died in 1997 of unspecified causes. She was alive when the Eiffel tower was built and when the telephone was patented, lived through both world wars, the cold war, and outlived both her daughter and her grandson.
Jeanne cycled until her 100th birthday, took care of her skin with olive oil, and was a light smoker until age 117. She didn’t move into a nursing home until age 110 – she had lived alone since age 88. Her move was prompted by the winter of 1995, which froze the water pipes in her house and caused frostbite in her hands (she did not use heating in the winter). In the nursing home, she asked to be woken at 6:45am, began her day with a long prayer, did gymnastics in her armchair, and had rusks and coffee for breakfast. She prepared and ate fruit salad daily, ate dessert with every meal, enjoyed braised beef, fried and spicy food, and chocolate, of which she sometimes ate a kilogram a week. She drank a small amount of port wine and smoked a Dunhill cigarette after each meal. She napped for two hours in the afternoon, would visit her neighbours in the care home, and smoked one last cigarette before bed. Her health did show signs of being affected by her smoking (she had a chronic cough). She reportedly slept well.
Some have disputed Jeanne’s age, suggesting that Jeanne Calment actually died in 1934 and that her daughter Yvonne assumed her identity. However, there’s no hard evidence to back up this claim, and most longevity experts find this theory to be weak. Therefore, to the best of our knowledge, Jeanne Calment is the oldest recorded person to have ever lived.