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The Oldest Person in the World Just Turned 117!

Ian Harvey
Kane Tanaka celebrates with the official recognition of Guinness World Records' world's oldest verified living person in Fukuoka on March 9, 2019. (JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)
Kane Tanaka celebrates with the official recognition of Guinness World Records' world's oldest verified living person in Fukuoka on March 9, 2019. (JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)

Just imagine how many events the oldest person in the world might have witnessed over the course of 117 years. Global wars, regional conflicts, political regime changes, social customs advancing and fading, and countless spring days. Throughout all those years, there is likely one characteristic that would keep someone going: optimism.

Optimism that even the darkest days, like those inflicted on nations during wars, do, eventually, pass. If optimism keeps one going and wisdom is something one attains with life experience, then Kane Tanaka, the world’s oldest living person at the moment, must be very wise indeed. To say nothing of optimistic.

Ms. Tanaka just enjoyed her 117th birthday in Japan on January 2nd, including a celebration with friends and the staff at her nursing home, and a large, flavorful birthday cake. Upon tasting it, Ms. Tanaka declared, “Tasty. I want some more!”

She is now a supercentenarian, a person who’s lived past the age of 110. And right now she is the oldest person on the planet and has been since her last birthday, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Ms. Tanaka was born in 1903. She wed Hideo Tanaka when she was 19 years old, and went on to have four children. The couple adopted a fifth child a little later.

Japan provides many (relatively speaking) individuals who live past 100. Experts attribute it to the dietary habits of the Japanese, which revolve around fresh fish, rice and vegetables. Genes play a part in longevity too, experts say, but in the end they can’t precisely nail down exactly why some people live to 100 and older, while others live “only” until their 70s and 80s. But exercise and diet do play major roles.

Advances in modern medicine also factor in, although curiously, studies show that most people who live to 100 and beyond have experienced few ailments in their lives. One woman in Italy, Emma Morano, told the New York Times before she died at 117, that she attributed her long life to “raw eggs and no husband.” An American who lived to 133, Goldie Michelson, told the Times that her long life was due to “morning walks and chocolate.” Yet another American senior, Shelby Harris, told the Times that, “I try to live the truth,” and that was what was responsible for his many decades. He passed away in 2017 at 111.

Experts, although unsure of why some people outlive others, are nonetheless intrigued by them. The Gerontology Research Group, in the U.S., studies the more than 150 folks worldwide who’ve lived past the age of 110, and yet has come up with few definitive answers. “I’ve interviewed more supercentenarians than probably anyone else,” said the late L. Stephen Coles, co-founder of the group, in 2014, “trying to find out what they have in common. The answer is almost nothing.”

Perhaps it is these factors, and a big dose of good luck, that allows some folks to sail past the 100 years mark, and others to falter and die well before that milestone.

Keeping busy is important, too. Ms. Tanaka wakes and rises every day at 6 a.m., and gets on with her day at the facility where she resides. She studies up on mathematics, amazingly enough, and loves to play board games with the staff — whom she often resoundingly beats.

This is not Ms. Tanaka’s first celebration as the world’s oldest individual; she received that status last year on her birthday. She was asked last year about the best moment of her life, and  promptly said, “now.”

Related Article: The Remarkable Life of the Oldest Known Woman to Ever Live

Maybe that’s part of the secret, too — always looking forward, not back, at events that cannot be changed. That’s where optimism comes in; hope that one will wake to greet a new day, and that there will be joy found no matter how many birthdays fly by for the oldest person in the world.