How to Live for 120 Years
By Eugenio Selman-Housein Abdo
These are three chapters from the book by Dr. Selman,
published by Editorial Cientifico-Técnica publishers,
in Havana, Cuba, in 2008.
A CubaNews translation by Giselle Gil.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Prologue by Dr. Concepcion Campa Huergo
President – General Director, Finlay Institute
Many things could be said, all of them positive, about this new book Prof. Dr. Eugenio Selman-Housein Abdo has written. In this book he has included his 60 years of experience as a specialist in the fields of medicine, public health, and biotechnology. He has also included the experience he has accumulated since the late ‘90s working with senior citizens on subjects like aging and how to enjoy a long life. In this book he informs us of the results obtained since the creation of “The 120 Year Club”, which has become a paradigm for all Cubans. The club was created as a section of the Medical Association of the Caribbean NGO by Dr. Selman personally and he has become its heart and soul as well as his director. So, among the many positive things that could be said I have chosen “very timely”.
This book is timely indeed because we are experiencing an accelerated demographic aging of our population and we must prepare for this contingency. It is in this context that Dr. Selman’s book is an invaluable and very useful tool.
Recent demographic studies show that the Cuban population has been aging during the last 15 years. This is due, among other things to a lower birth rate and an increase in life expectancy, which is now 77 years and is expected to reach 80 years in 2015.
Cuban population projections for 2001-2020 predict that the percentage of people over 60 years of age will grow from 14.5% to 21.4%. Children between 0 and 14 years old which were a 20.9% in 2001 will decrease to a 15.6% in 2020.
It might be surprising for some to know that in 2002 there were more than 2 thousand people over one hundred years old in Cuba. The oldest one was 123 years old and was leading a very active life at the time.
A plan of coordinated actions and specialized attention was designed for this age group. It was meant to help them fulfill their biological, psychological and socio-cultural needs and guarantee them a high quality of life. This plan became the Integral Program for Senior Citizens, which was conceived with a social and institutional approach. It is meant to develop Gerontology and Geriatrics with the aim of understanding what it means to become old and the needs seniors have from a medical and social point of view.
This program is an instrument to make health services better. Socially it promotes the so-called Grandparent Clubs and other social groupings in which the whole community participates.
On the whole we have 471 health teams in the country to take care of senior citizens and more than 14,500 Grandparent Clubs, comprising more than 400,000 seniors. To work on the prevention of transmissible illnesses all citizens over 60 will receive the vaccine against human influenza in the near future. This vaccine campaign was started in 1999 during winter and is now applied to all senior citizens living in homes, or institutions for the handicapped, or belonging to Grandparent Clubs.
Another issue is the economic impact this growing population of seniors will have. Life expectancy will continue to grow because of the medical achievements the Revolution has made possible, and so an increase in pensions and the social security budget is forecasted. The number of people who will retire after 2015, specifically from 2020 to 2030, is estimated in three million citizens.
Therefore, if we want to face this reality in a professional, efficient and proper fashion we not only need a specialized institutional and governmental approach, but also the participation of the people themselves.
The senior citizens and the rest of our citizens also, since they will inevitably reach old age (or as our author points out, “people should not start worrying about their health only after they reach their 50s or 60s”) should read and study Dr. Selman’s book as a way of preparing themselves consciously and responsibly for a long successful and satisfying life.
The Cuban sculptor and painter Alexis Leyva Machado, known as Kcho, whose work is a paradigm of a particular artistic universe with great repercussion in Cuba, illustrated the book cover. The image he created, with his very personal iconographic style, illustrates as he himself said “…man in perfect harmony with his body and his very existence to achieve a long satisfying life”.
The structure of this book, didactical and yet chatty, begins with an intellectually provocative question: How can one live 120 years? This question is answered very thoroughly with updated information of the topics covered.
He reflects on the term “old man”, which sometimes has a pejorative significance in our social environment, concluding its only significance is being lucky enough to have lived many years. He says in academic circles the term used is the one proposed in 1994 by the Pan-American Health Organization that of “senior citizen” and he then makes a fascinating description of life’s biological process and the characteristics innate to humans.
On the subject of “Things we need to acquire” attitudes and habits are analyzed. Among these the ones the author considers basic to arriving at the 120 year goal are purpose, optimism, exercises to avoid organic atrophies, and harmful habits. We consider that these recommendations are also very useful to younger persons; that they will help them maintain a better mental and physical health and help them have a better social performance.
Time (our time) should be guarded and defended as one of our most precious gifts; especially if we consider that the length of our existence is a mere instant compared with the existence of the cosmos. When we think about the need to use it wisely, the beautiful words of the immortal Charles Chaplin come to mind “Life is a play that has no rehearsals…” In the same way the need to do away with the limitations and self-limitations we impose on ourselves, or as a famous Cuban poet says in one of his songs “you do not need wings to make your dream come true”. Both these issues are of the utmost importance and this is how they are presented, as things to prioritize if you want to live a long, healthy, useful life.
I found particularly interesting the discussion on the main things to take into account if you want to live a satisfactory long life: motivation, nutrition, health, exercise, culture and environment. Although these are well known aspects and have been amply talked about in the media, in the book the author discusses them in a harmonious and integrated manner without the use of unnecessary technicalities.
The annexes included at the end enrich the book and include interesting data, graphs, and statistics, which are very helpful to the reader. The large number of references included at the end of each chapter will also prove helpful to those readers that want to know more about each of the topics discussed.
It has been an honor for me to be asked to write the prologue of this book of my beloved Professor Dr. Eugenio Selman-Housein Abdo, who discusses conscientiously a subject of such great social and human impact in the world and in our country in particular. A subject which is also very near to my professional and vocational interests, and so it is one of the most precious gifts, life could give me.
Therefore I thank Professor Selman from the bottom of my heart for giving me this privilege, as well as for the deep and gratifying satisfaction of reading his manuscript. I am sure the readers will also find reading this book a most pleasant and enriching experience for their mind and spirit.
And I hereby solemnly commit myself to read this edition, or future ones, of Professor Selman’s book again, with renewed interest, on my 120th birthday.
To our Commander-in-Chief, Fidel Castro Ruz, author of the victory of the Cuban Revolution and the development of Socialism in Cuba, who showed that a better world is possible.
Life is a series of challenges and these challenges are in themselves a reason to live and enjoy life. Life is beautiful and filled with details. These details are the ones who make us enjoy life. It can be the smile of a child or the look in a woman’s eyes, (or a man’s for the ladies). It can also be the look of a flower or to smell its perfume, a hand that holds us if we are going to fall. It is also a person who is truly moved by our suffering, the joy of reading a good book or contemplating a work of art. It is also the satisfaction of a job well done.
These are some of the millions of things that come into our life every day and make life an invaluable gift that everyone wants to enjoy and prolong.
The Holy Bible in Genesis[i] tells us about people who lived hundreds of years:
Methuselah 969 years
Enoch 965 years
Jared 962 years
Noah 950 years
Adam 930 years
Set 912 years
Ever since ancient times people have tried to find the “Fountain of Youth” or the “Elixir for a Long Life”; they are looking for an active longevity in something outside themselves, when it mainly depends on what is inside the person.
For a long time geneticists have said that genes determine a maximum life expectancy for each species and, therefore, the life of human beings has a predetermined length. This cannot be as strict as they say because the average number of years a person can live has been extended again and again.[ii]
The experience acquired after 60 years of practice led me to my first conclusion: “Active longevity has to be found inside the individual, inside the person”. This follows the teachings of Hippocrates, Father of Medicine, who in the year 460 B.C. said that the doctor alone is not the one who cures. The patient cures himself with the help of the doctor. He also said one must take into account the circumstances, win the patient’s trust and worry about his emotional state. He was against any procedure that went against the natural healing process and he said one must avoid all things harmful: Primum non nocere. [First do no harm [Editor's Note]
The second conclusion we found was: “People do not start to worry about their health until they reach 50 or 60 years of age”.
This is why we proposed that the Board of the Caribbean Medical Association (AMECA) hold an international congress on “Satisfactory Longevity”. The congress was held in Cuba in May 2003 at the National Hotel with delegates from 18 countries: Angola, Argentina, Aruba, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Spain, Switzerland, United States of America and Venezuela.
The congress’ final resolution was to hold an international congress on “Satisfactory Longevity: Integral Vision” every year in May to continue discussing this topic.[iii]
Later the Caribbean Medical Association decided to create a section named “The 120 Year Club”. This club is meant to join people of every age who want to support each other to live in a satisfactory and active way until they are 120 years old.
This book, “How to live 120 years?”, gathers all experiences and studies made and proven through out the years to help those who want to [reach this age].
[i] The Holy Bible, Genesis 6, 1-3
[[ii] Selman-Housein, K. H. “Factors that can define a satisfactory length from the study of 270 people over 100 years of age” Tesis for Internal Medicine Specialist 1st degree, Havana, 2005 [in Spanish]
iii] Selman –H Abdo, E. “Living Life” First International Congress on Satisfactory Longevity: Integral Vision. National Hotel, Havana, 2003
Famous people who lived long active lives
Plato, renowned Greek philosopher, said maturity started at 60 and wrote all his books after he reached this age.
General Maximo Gomez was the leader of both Cuban wars for independence and died in 1905 from an infected wound in a finger of his right hand.
Mahatma Gandhi, precursor of passive resistance, liberated India from British colonialism and was assassinated when he was 79 years old and fully active.
Mao Tse Tung was named leader of China when he was 77 years old.
Ho Chi Ming led his people in the fight against Japanese colonialism, after that against French colonialism and when he was an old man he fought against American Imperialism creating the basis for the Republic of Viet Nam.
Winston Churchill was elected Prime Minister when he was 65 years old and led his country in the war against German Fascism.
Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States of America when he was 70 years old.
The Pope John Paul II after he was an old man traveled to 104 countries in the 5 continents.
Goethe, German novelist and poet, was 80 years old when he finished writing Faust.
Cervantes wrote the second part of “Don Quijote de la Mancha” when he was 68 years old.
Guisseppe Verdi, Italian composer, composed his opera Othello when he was 74 years old.
Franz Liszt was still composing when he was 75 years old.
Emmanuel Kant, renowned German philosopher, wrote until he was 80 years old.
Goya, Velazquez, Dali, and Picasso still painted when they were old men.
Henz Muller, American novelist, wrote until he was 80 years old.
Florence Nightingale, English lady who created the basis for the International Red Cross, worked until the end of her days.
Miguel Angel Buonarroti Italian painter, sculptor and architect lived an active life until he was 89 years old.
Santiago Ramon y Cajal, Spanish doctor, lived an active life until he was 82 years old and received the Nobel Prize for his studies on dies in Pathological Anatomy.
Carlos J. Finlay, Cuban doctor, discovered that the mosquito Aedes Aegipty transmitted yellow fever, and therefore that many illnesses can be transmitted by non human vectors.
Francisco Lancis Sanchez, Cuban professor of legal medicine, worked until he was 82 years old.
 General Maximo Gomez was born in Dominican Republic in 1836. The first war for Cuban Independence was fought between1868-1878 and the second war between1895-1898. (Note of the translator).