Advice from oldest man: Accept your inevitable death, and skip a meal

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Nobody lives forever, but most of us try to delay the inevitable as long as possible. Walter Breuning, a retired railroad worker from Great Falls, Mont., succeeded at this better than most.

Breuning recently died of natural causes at the age of 114.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the average age at time of death in the U.S. is just under 78.

An amiable man with a fatalistic view of life, Breuning had a life that spanned the entire 20th century. In 1896, the year of his birth, the Klondike Gold Rush began. A decade later, Britain's first modern battleship, HMS Dreadnought, was launched. Breuning bought his first car in 1919 for the then-substantial sum of $150. He was still a young man in 1927, when Yankee slugger Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. Breuning witnessed the primitive years of human flight, but lived long enough to see space travel become almost routine.

After a long career as a railroad worker, he spent his final years in a studio apartment in a retirement home.

Secrets for a long life

Theories about longevity are plentiful. Because lung cancer remains a major killer, the CDC says one of the best things you can do to prolong your life is simply to not smoke. Jack LaLanne, the late exercise guru and TV personality, asserted that physical fitness is the key to a long life. Author Henry David Thoreau thought the key to eternal youth was maintaining your enthusiasm. The world's oldest man had his own ideas, however.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Breuning offered this advice about living long and well:

  • Accepting change, even when change is disappointing. No one ever said everything would go your way.
  • Limiting yourself to two meals a day . At 5 foot 8 and 125 pounds, the lean Breuning restricted his meals in his final years to breakfast and lunch, with lots of fruit. He skipped dinner, but drank plenty of water.
  • Continuing to work as long as you are able . After retiring from the railroad, he volunteered for the local Shriners chapter until he was 99.
  • Finding ways to help others. As Breuning told the Associated Press, "The more you do for others, the better shape you're in."
  • Accepting death. The world's oldest man said acknowledging the inevitability of death is one of the keys to enjoying a long life. Never be afraid of death, Breuning said, because you're born to die.

An active mind

Elizabeth Lombardo, a clinical psychologist and physical therapist in Wexford, Pa., says Breuning's commitment to working late into life likely was responsible for keeping his mind active far longer than most. This alone can prolong life, she says. "When we have a sense of purpose, we are so much happier."

Dennis Kravetz, a psychologist based in Scottsdale, Ariz., says one very important thing Breuning did was to maintain a positive attitude.

"This gentleman was right on," Kravetz says. "There is compelling, powerful evidence that if people have a positive attitude, particularly in retirement years, they live longer. It means looking forward to the future. That is easy when you are 25 years old, but when you are 85 years old, you may say, 'Well, my life is just about over with.' That creates your death."

Life insurance needs for 114-year-olds

Many people fear death less when they know that they have taken steps to provide financial support to those they will leave behind. One of the main reasons to buy life insurance is to provide for the people who depend on your income. If you have dependents, "buy enough life insurance so that, when combined with other sources of income, it will replace the income you now generate for them," says Loretta Worters, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute.

As you transition through life, be sure to review your life insurance needs periodically. Whenever you shop for a policy, make sure you are not seeking life insurance quotes for more protection than you truly need.

If you are in the running to be the world's oldest man or woman, you likely don't need life insurance, Worters says. In most cases, if you are a senior citizen with no dependents and you have an estate large enough to pay your final expenses, there is little need for life insurance.



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.



This article appears in: Personal Finance , Insurance

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