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4 female celebrities in their 90s offer tips for living a long and fulfilling life

Last week, C.N. indicated she needed a little lift during this COVID time and asked what the Successful Aging column could do to help. As part of an HBO special, we showcased quips from four legendary comedians in their 90s: Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, Mel Brooks and Dick Van Dyke.

This week we feature quotes from four women in their 90s for a bit more levity with a message.

Age doesn’t matter according to Angela Lansbury. Lansbury, age 95, has been on stage, television and in films for over 70 years, never permitting her chronological age to hold her back. She has said, “I’ve never been particularly aware of my age. It’s like being on a bicycle — I just put my foot down and keep going.”

What we know. During childhood, there are expected age-related milestones in a child’s development, such as when the child walks, talks and can read. That’s not the case for older adults. Expectations about how older adults look, behave and think are not based on developmental stages but on social expectations which often is an excuse for ageism. Most older adults keep going regardless of their age.

Betty White advocates getting enough sleep. As a 98-year old actress and comedian, White has a television career spanning 80 years and has worked longer in the industry than anyone else. In promoting sleep, she says, “Get at least eight hours of beauty sleep, nine if you’re ugly.”

What we know. Sleep is considered an important part of our routine and is essential for survival as is food and water. Recent research suggests that sleep has a housekeeping role by removing toxins in our brain that accumulate when we are awake. For older adults, less than seven hours of sleep a night generally is considered insufficient The American Academy of Sleep Medicine refers to a study by UCLA researchers who discovered that “just a single night of insufficient sleep can make older adult’s cells age quicker.” For a good read on sleep, see “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time” by Arianna Huffington (Harmony Books, 2017).

Iris Apfel believes in authenticity. Apfel, age 99, is a businesswoman, interior designer, model and considered the world’s oldest fashion icon. She describes herself as a “geriatric starlet,” known for her brightly colored clothing, layered jewelry and oversized glasses. There is even a Barbie doll modeled after her. She says, “When you don’t dress like everyone else then you don’t have to think like everyone else.” She adds, “ I always dressed for myself and don’t care what anybody thinks.”

What we know. With age we have the opportunity to become more of ourselves and less reliant on fulfilling expectations of others. Authenticity refers to the characteristics, roles or attributes that define who we are, even if they are different from how we may act. With age there is a tendency to see ourselves as more authentic, according to researchers Elizabeth Seto and Rebecca J. Schlegel.

Dr. Ruth views life in a positive way. Ruth Westheimer, age 92, is a sex therapist, author, media personality and talk-show host. She says, “I actually look for things to smile about.” In a 2019 interview she indicated as a Holocaust survivor, she defused anxiety and shame by focusing on the present and using humor and charm.

What we know. Having a positive attitude not only makes us feel good, it effects our longevity. A study from the Boston University School of Medicine found that after decades of research, those who were more optimistic about life lived longer, often to age 85 and older. Researchers suggest several reasons. More optimistic people may be able to regulate their emotions and behavior more effectively as well as their ability to bounce back from difficult situations. Furthermore, they may have healthier lifestyle habits.

Thank you C.N. for your good question. These women in their 90s have lived and seen a lot. During the current climate, some of their tips might be useful: Don’t let age hold you back, stay positive and authentic and of course, get enough sleep. Above all, stay safe and be well and kind to yourself and others.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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