The secret of healthy longevity is work

Every week, I read the obituaries in The New York Times—paying special attention to the life stories of centenarians or near-centenarians.
What interesting lives many of them have had for almost a century—John Fox, innovator in developing frozen juice, who died at 90; Hanna Fromm, founder of the first school for retirees, who died at 89.
Aileen Riggin Soule, an Olympic swimmer and diver, at 96. Quita Brodhead, a vibrant abstract artist, at 101; Ben Eastman, runner and former world record-holder, at 91.
I have read many other noteworthy life stories. But none more fascinating than the story of Dr. F. William Sunderman, who died at age 104 earlier this month.
What I found most interesting is that Sunderman had a full-time job editing a medical journal until a few weeks before his death. He worked eight hours a day and bragged that he kept two secretaries busy.
And he drove himself to work until age 100.
During his 80-year career, Sunderman worked as a pathologist, chemist, toxicologist, author, and editor. In addition, he taught in the medical schools of eight universities and travelled to 175 countries as a lecturer in medical schools.
But he still had time enough to write 350 papers and 45 books. His autobiography, “A Time to Remember,” was published in 1998 and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
So numerous were his accomplishments that his listing in Marquis “Who’s Who in America” fills three pages.
In the course of his distinguished career, Sunderman furthered the advance of medicine. He is credited with treating the first diabetic coma patient with a crude form of insulin.
He also developed methods for measuring glucose and cholesterol.
As avocations, he was an award-winning photographer, a published poet, and an accomplished violinist.
At age five, his mother bought him a violin and told him “practice makes perfect.” Sunderman took his mother’s advice and practised an hour a day throughout his lifetime.
In the 1960s, he spent summers playing chamber music in Europe. At age 100, he played his 1694 Stradivarius violin in Carnegie Hall. And his last performance in Europe was a 1999 concert in Vienna.
Sunderman said he always had maintained a sense of balance throughout his busy life with music.
Asked his secret for healthy longevity, Sunderman credited heredity, a good diet, the absence of stress, a happy home, and living in a non-toxic environment.
But then he went on to say, “I am convinced that one of the most important items for longevity is the maintenance of a daily work schedule.”
Sunderman lived by Voltaire’s words, “How infinitesimal is the importance of anything I can do, but how infinitely important it is that I should do it.”
So if you want to live vibrant and healthy as you age, why not follow Sunderman’s advice. Work!
Set yourself a daily working schedule—paid or unpaid. Work in your garden. Write your memoirs. Volunteer in the schools or in a soup kitchen. Get a part-time job. Take care of your house.
It’s your choice. But whatever you choose, be sure you have a daily schedule of work.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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