Through our exceptional health
care services, we reveal
the healing presence of God.

Living Well to 100 

Helen Schlecht may be pushing 100 years old, but you wouldn’t guess it by looking at her, or watching what she does.

“I do a lot of reading, but when my friends call I’m ready to go. I don’t just sit around all day,” she says with a smile.

She’s not alone.  Today’s centenarians are living healthier and happier lives thanks to advances in medicine and their willingness to do more and see more things.

“I love to read,” adds Schlecht. “When I read I’m living the story and I can picture it in my mind and that’s what I truly enjoy!”

DeForest residents Alice and Ted Rortvedt celebrated 80 years of marriage in 2012. According to local media reports, they’re the second longest married couple in the state of Wisconsin, and 17th longest in the world! The 98 and 100 year old respectively still live on their own and often visit nearby towns to enjoy fresh baked goods.

“I feel like I’m fifty. It probably sounds crazy but I do,” says Alice with a hearty laugh.

Agnes Payne is 104 years old. And while she may not be out and about fishing or playing ball like she did decades before, she’s still loving life.

While very different in their own way, these individuals and others their age tend to share some common traits, says Dr. David Sorber medical director of the St. Mary’s Care Center and Dean Clinic physician.

“There’s a lot of research going on right now in genetics,” he says. “But my personal view is optimism or having a positive view of the world seems to help. Other prominent features in centenarians include a sense of connectedness, living a life of moderation and relatives who’ve lived long lives,” he says.

People who are optimistic tend to not dwell as much on down times in their lives and thus tend to have less stress. The longer you live, the more you tend to outlive family and friends. Dr. Sorber says those who persevere tend to continue to make friends as they age. Moderation or not overdoing anything, also comes into play. And finally genetics can give you better odds of reaching the century mark.

“Look at others who’ve lived longer and pattern your lives after theirs because they’re living examples for all of us,” adds Dr. Sorber.

New research backs up Dr. Sorber’s own personal experiences. The Longevity Genes Project launched by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine looked at 243 people who were 100 or near 100 years old. They found those individuals had an overwhelming positive outlook on life, tended to laugh a lot, and also didn’t have trouble making friends.

Local centenarians agree.

“We laugh more than we cry,” says Alice Rortvedt.

“I always had good friends inside and outside my profession,” says Helen Schlecht. “I also kept up with all the activities going on. I didn’t overdue things like drinking or carousing or anything like that. Overall, I just lived a simple life.”

So what do they attribute their longevity to?

“I tell everyone it’s because we were both born and raised on the farm,” says Alice Rortvedt. “We had all fresh things to eat growing up.”

“Good hard work never killed anyone,” adds her husband Ted.

“If I didn’t have my sense of humor, I don’t know where I’d be,” says Schlecht. “I don’t dwell on anything serious. I’m glad I can enjoy life and the humor of it.”

 “I like fast things, anything fast,” says 97 year old Alice Richards. “I used to hot lap for Gary (her son) warm the racecar up for him. Right now even as I’m older I love racecars, I’ve been to so many races.”

Dr. Sorber says all of these are examples of people who look forward to waking up each day and taking on a new challenge. And that may be the key or at least part of the key to reaching 100.

“People who are more creative and have a lot of interests tend to have less memory loss as they age. This is a personality type that’s interested and energetic and trying new things all the time. These are people that tend to be survivors in the long run. They’re always finding something to do they haven’t done before,” he adds.

So what can you do to increase your odds of living well to a ripe old age?

First, keep in mind that people are living longer all the time thanks to medical advances. And the next time you feel down, think of how much adversity 100 year olds overcame in their lives from the Great Depression to several world wars.

“Get plenty of exercise, eat right, and remember everything in moderation,” says Dr. Sorber. “And remember to smile more. It’s free and contagious so it’ll help others as well!”


St. Mary's Hospital     700 South Park Street     Madison, WI 53715-0450     (608) 251-6100
Copyright ©     St. Mary's Hospital
All Rights Reserved.     A Member of SSM Health
SSM Health Care Wisconsin