The World's Oldest Man: What We Can Learn from Walter Breuning

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: General Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

As many of you may have seen in the news today, Walter Breuning who was the world’s oldest many, died on Thursday at age 114. As an anti-aging specialist myself, his life’s philosophy greatly intrigues me. When asked, Breuning credited his longevity to four things: embracing change, eating just two meals a day, helping others, and working as long as you can.

Breuning’s philosophy is absolutely the key to a longer life in many ways:

  1. Embracing change. By embracing change, you greatly reduce the amount of stress in your life. It’s like the old saying, “accept the things you cannot change.” Accepting means reducing stress, and less stress means better health. In fact, studies have found that patients who overreacted to mental stress had nearly three times the relative risk of having a cardiac event compared with those who didn’t. So by accepting change, you cannot only improve your health—but very well lengthen your life!

  2. Eating just two meals a day. There’s no question that keeping your weight at a healthy level is critical to good health. Being overweight puts you at risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and other life-threatening conditions, not to mention reduced energy levels and a negative self-image. Eating two meals a day worked for Breuning. But I would change that a bit to say you should eat three small, healthy meals a day. That way you’re continually energizing your body and your heart, and keeping your blood sugar steady.

  3. Helping others. Human connectedness is extremely important to our mental outlook and wellbeing. One of the best ways to maintain that connectedness, as Breuning suggested, is by reaching out to others. You can volunteer in a soup kitchen, help at a homeless shelter, walk a dog for an elderly neighbor who can’t get out, or prepare and share a meal for someone who dines alone too often. 

  4.  Working as long as you can. Doing meaningful work in our lives is extremely important—for some of the same reasons Breuning mentioned earlier. It helps to keep us connected to others, and if you’re doing paid work it reduces the stress of not having enough money in this tough economy. But I wouldn’t necessarily interpret Breuning’s advice as meaning you have to work when you could be enjoying retirement. Rather, it’s an invitation to do useful work for as long as you can. Whether that means staying in your career longer, trying something you didn’t get to try when you were working full-time, or doing meaningful volunteer work, is totally up to you.

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