SuperAger sisters on longevity, health tips

Shirley Hodes, 106, has not seen her baby sister, Ruth “Ruthy” Sweedler, 103, in person since 2015. Visitation is difficult as they live in different assisted living facilities thousands of miles apart on the other – Hodes outside Asheville, North Carolina, and Sweedler outside Hartford, Connecticut – and neither is too mobile anymore.

Yet they talk on the phone three times a week. Hodes uses a specially selected landline to have giant digits and as few buttons as possible, as his eyes aren’t that keen.

Either way, she’ll do whatever it takes to keep in touch with her only remaining sibling. She and Sweedler were the youngest of eight children born to working-class immigrant parents.

“Family is very important to us,” Hodes says. “Close relationships are very important. They keep you going.”

Sweedler agrees: The key to longevity is “to be happy, to be healthy, and to have love in life.”

H/O: Shirley Hodes (right) and Ruth Sweedler (left), 2015

Photo by: Trudy Galynker

From a distance, Hodes and Sweedler look as alike as two slices of rye bread. They are both radiant tiny Jewish widows with puffy hair the color of late winter snow.

But they insist on their individuality. She and her little sister are “not alike at all,” Hodes says. Sweedler “likes to brag”.

Hodes “interferes in people’s lives,” says Sweedler. In contrast, “I just want to have an up-to-date conversation about what’s going on in the world.”

“I’m very nosy,” admits Hodes, indifferently. But “everyone needs each other! Life would be empty if you didn’t meet and want to know more about each other.”

“Keep your body fit and your mind fit”

There’s little value in living past 100 if you can’t enjoy your time here, the sisters agree. It means taking care of yourself holistically. “You need good health to be able to participate in life,” says Hodes.

“Keep your body in good shape and your mind in good shape,” says Sweedler. “So you did.”

1. Take your steps

Long before Fitbits or iPhones tracked you so you could see how high you were getting to 10,000 steps a day, Hodes and Sweedler were keen on staying active.

“When I was living at home, I was walking with friends at the reservoir. It was just wonderful. An eight kilometer walk and I did it every morning. Up and down, so it really gave you a training session.”

Although she’s not “as nimble” as her sister these days, Sweeney is still doing tricks, indoors if necessary and outdoors if the Connecticut climate permits.

Living in North Carolina, Hodes has the benefit of milder weather and aims for a daily walk. Twice a week, when her daughter comes by, they walk together on the grounds of the building.

Hodes has always loved going out and moving: “It was part of my life, going for a walk.” It was convenient too, because she and her husband had to be careful with money, she says: Walking “was the cheapest thing I liked to have.”

2. Cultivate connection

As children of a poor family, “every part of our life was about dealing with it,” Hodes says. “We may have had the bare necessities, but we had the necessary.”

Although there were conflicts, “we got over each other, we got on well, we cared about each other. We had a lot of fights because you need to be heard! You raised your voice. But it does not matter.”

Learning to be heard when needed, and learning to get along, have served both well. “There were a lot of things we had to put up with, but we were better people for it,” Hodes says.

Life would be empty if you didn’t meet and want to know more about others.

Where Hodes lives, residents always come and go, and she likes the variety. “I’m interested! I sit with new people, make conversation, ask questions, get them to open up.”

You can learn a lot this way: After all, she says, “you never know what’s hidden in a person.”

Both women have fond memories of their husbands. “Nothing is better than a good marriage,” Sweedler says.

“I had a wonderful husband and wonderful children,” Hodes echoes. “It’s a great accomplishment.”

3. Read Widely

Hodes’ advice to anyone who wants to stay mentally sharp is, “Read, so you can keep developing your mind.”

The women share a passion for literature and the arts that began when they were young. “We were a family of readers and we didn’t have to spend money buying books because the library was close,” says Hodes.

Sisters Shirley Hodes and Ruth Sweedler, circa 1923

“When I was little and I got my library card, that was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Sweedler says. Now she’s part of a reading group, and not one where the members mostly drink wine and gossip: “We read stories and discuss them.” She is particularly drawn to black authors because they expose her to different experiences and viewpoints.

More and more, according to scientists, loneliness can kill. But “if you love to read, you’ll never be alone,” says Sweedler. “Every book is your friend.”

4. Eat moderately

The first thing Sweedler says when asked about the secret to living well past 100 is, “You never smoke and you never drink.” Beyond that, however, she doesn’t have too many specifics to say about what to and what not to put in your body.

She has a “pretty good diet,” she says. “I try to stay away from desserts.”

If you like to read, you will never be alone.

“I liked to eat a simple, balanced diet without too many sweets,” says Hodes, following the guidelines taught in the Red Cross nutrition course she took during World War II. (“They wanted to keep us healthy.”) Although she tries to limit animal fats and drinks skim milk, she enjoys a little ice cream after dinner.

The main thing seems to be, with food as well as everything else, not to go to extremes: “It doesn’t hurt to live a good and moderate life.”

5. Focus on the positive

“I’m a lucky person,” says Hodes. “Although I had illnesses and problems, I overcame them.”

As a brilliant child, she skipped a grade. But college was not an option. As a teenager, she was already working, and after graduating she had to earn money.

She becomes melancholy thinking of what could have been: “I didn’t do much studying, but the school I had, I appreciated.” She would have liked a more stimulating and high-level career.

But she does not dwell on the regrets: “I happen to be very lucky.

His temper helps. Basically, he is a cheerful, optimistic person. “Not all people appreciate what’s in their life – they take it for granted. I’m not like that. I like to analyze situations and feel like I’ve been blessed. “

Sweedler had more than his fair share of grief: his two daughters died relatively young. Yet why spend your time feeling bitter or dwelling on regrets?

As a child, she was praised for her good attitude. “When I walked into a classroom, my teacher would say, ‘Hello, sunshine!’ Because I was so gay.”

She is now 103 and that has not changed. “I’m interested in everything, and I’m here and now,” Sweedler says. “I don’t look back, I look forward.”

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